Ignore the sensationalist title, THE DIARY OF A RAPIST by Evan S. Connell is one of the better, more thorough, insightful and internal anatomy of a working wretch I’ve read. Earl Summerfield, the narrator, works at a dead end job at the Bureau of Employment. Aside from the usual frustrations, he is twice passed over for promotions. The second time in particular galls him as it ends up going to an unctuous co-worker who doesn’t work as hard as he does. He spends the rest of his time noting down violent crimes that happen in the San Francisco area (the story’s setting). This becomes his obsession.
Earl’s wife, Bianca, who is six years older than him, at first ignores him and as the story progresses seems to view him with a cross between dread, suspicion, and annoyance. She is a teacher and spends most of her time attempting to snag a promotion which she finally gets further alienating herself from Earl.
Now for the title there are two ways to view the events of the book
1.) Earl stalks and eventually rapes a teenage beauty queen on July 1st. The book is written in a diary format and July 1st is left blank. He saves a shoe as a memento and fantasizes she enjoyed it and likes him as he didn’t read anything about his crime in the newspaper. The book ends with him planning to attack her again on Christmas the remaining passages, the remaining days in December, are blank like the day of his first attack leaving Earl’s fate a mystery.
2.) Earl lives in a fantasy world. He does commit some petty crimes following young women, breaking into homes, stealing ladies underwear and the like but most of what he says is detached from reality. The rape never happens although Earl’s anonymous obscene phone calls to his visualized victim before and after the crime supposedly happens are real.
Earl’s bravado seems a bit hollow to me. I tend to think the second interpretation is what’s actually happened. Maybe he committed suicide at the end.
I recall reading somewhere this book influenced Paul Schrader when he was writing the screenplay for TAXI DRIVER. A lot of Earl’s rants against crime, against the people he encounters are not much different than Travis Bickle’s monologues. “I wish a real rain would come and wash all the scum off the street” is like something Earl could have written.
Earl only talks about sex as violence, as a weapon to be used against women “the bitches” who tease and torment him. His anger is much deeper than sexual frustration. He hates his life and feels better than his job, his marriage, the life he is living.
Only small complaint I have about this book is I wish we knew more about Earl’s childhood. We know very little about his growing up. On the rare occasion we see Earl through the eyes of others the view is twisted. Bianca clearly is both angry and scared of him questioning where he goes all the time and also how he ogles the teenage girls she tutors on weekends.
Earl hides who he is in his explosive rants which are pithy (Connell edits himself well). But he is who many of us are or have been not rapists necessarily but struggling in America the land of plenty but for many lost people the land of little, a land of limited opportunities.