THIS is why I love to read!

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Pursuit by Joyce Carol Oates

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Abby Hayman has not had an easy life.  When her parents disappeared when she was 5 years old, she went to live with an aunt, who had troubles of her own.  Abby grew up confused by her memories of things she had been too young to understand.  She has a recurring dream of walking in a field of skeletons, which she finds completely terrorizing.  She’s 20 years old now and has just married William Zengler, a devout Christian who is madly in love with her.  That makes it all the more difficult to understand why she steps out into traffic the day after her wedding when she was so happy to be William’s bride.  Was it an accident or a suicide attempt?

The first two pages of this book proves, once again, that Joyce Carol Oates is a master at her craft.  Those pages were so chilling and pulled me right into this compelling, heartbreaking tale.   This is a very intense, dark story with some extremely brutal moments.  It’s more of a novella at only 144 pages, but Ms. Oates knows how to make every word count.  It punches your heart with a powerful emotional wallop.  Ms. Oates writes compassionately about the long term effects of war on soldiers and the devastating effect of violence on a family.  This one is going to haunt me for a long time to come.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Not one of my favorite Oates’ books

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What I Lived For by Joyce Carol Oates

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

A day in the life of Jerome “Corky” Corcoran is quite a day indeed.  It’s Memorial Day, 1992.  Marilee Plummer, a black woman who had recently accused a black city council member of raping her, has apparently committed suicide.  Corky doesn’t make any political friends when he calls for a full investigation.  Nothing’s going right for Corky.  He feels betrayed by his lover, his financial empire is in trouble and his troubled step-daughter is causing him grief.  Corky has never gotten over his father’s cold-blooded murder and he may soon discover some answers.

Joyce Carol Oates is one of my favorite authors but I can’t say that this is one of my favorite novels of hers.  It’s a very uncomfortable book to read and Corky is a very hard character to like.  He’s a womanizer, he’s patronizing, he’s conceited although he also hates himself, he’s racist and he has a horribly foul mouth.  I felt like I was being assaulted by the hard language used throughout this story.  On Corky’s behalf, he’s a self-made millionaire and has come a long way from his difficult start.  This book is over 600 pages (it’s a reprint, having first been published in 1994) and there were times I wasn’t sure I could spend any more time with this guy.  I’ve always known that Ms. Oates is a brave author and I think this is probably one of her bravest efforts.  But I’m not at all sure that Corky warranted such attention.  I wish I could have come to care about Corky.  The first chapter of this book is a heartrending one but it wasn’t enough for me to justify what Corky becomes as an adult.

This must be the first Joyce Carol Oates book that I didn’t love.  Sorry, Ms. Oates. I do appreciate the opportunity to read this work of a well-loved author.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

A master short-story author

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Night-Gaunts and Other Tales of Suspense by Joyce Carol Oates

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star review

The first story, “The Woman in the Window”, opens with a naked woman sitting in a window waiting for her married lover.  Is there still love in her heart for this man or has it turned to hatred?  Have her feelings for her remained the same?

In “The Long-Legged Girl”, a woman has decided to play Russian roulette with poisoned tea with her husband’s beautiful dance student.

“Sign of the Beast” is a disturbing tale of a young boy who Sunday School teacher shows him unwanted attention.

In “Walking Wounded”, a man working on a well-known author’s posthumous work keeps finding erotic references that seem to reflect what’s happening in his own life.

The title story, “Night-Gaunts”, explores the damnation of heredity is such a frightening way.

If I had to pick a favorite out of all of these unique stories, it would be “The Experimental Subject”.  This is a nightmarish story about a lab technician who lures a naïve, unattractive young woman to be the unknowing recipient of a chimpanzee’s sperm in the hopes that she will give birth to the first “Humanzee”.

I have never been disappointed by the work of Joyce Carol Oates and she certainly doesn’t let her readers down with this selection of short stories.  They are some of the most unusual, creative, horrific stories I’ve ever read.  If you like your stories all neatly tied up at the end, these won’t be your cup of tea.  Most of the stories leave the reader hanging but I actually enjoy wondering what happened and letting my imagination fill in the blanks.  This is an excellent selection of horror tales from an author who just keeps improving.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

Four unnerving tales

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Evil Eye:  Four Novellas of Love Gone Wrong by Joyce Carol Oates

Book Review:  5 star rating

As the sub-title says, these are four novellas of love gone wrong. The first novella, “Evil Eye”, focuses on a nazar, which is a talisman used to ward off the evil eye.  Mariana is a shy, timid young woman who is the newly wedded fourth wife of Austin Mohr.  Austin is 25 years old than Mariana and his adoration of her seems to be wearing off and his impatience growing.  He announces that his first wife, Ines, will be coming to visit.  Austin and Ines have a terrible secret that Ines wishes to confide to Mariana.  Can their marriage survive this revelation?

The second novella, “So Near Anytime Always”, involves another shy young woman, Lizbeth, this one a teenager who falls for a new young man in the area, Desmond. But Desmond has a dark side that Lizbeth isn’t at first aware of.

In “The Execution”, college student Bert Hansen has taken too many wrong turns during his life. He blames his father for never being supportive and now his mother also seems to have given up on him.  Bert plots his evil revenge on both his hated father and his loving mother.

The last novella is “The Flatbed”. Cecilia has never been able to have a normal sexual relationship due to the abuse she sustained as a child.  The new man in her life thinks revenge will give the help that Cecilia needs to overcome her issues.

Joyce Carol Oates has long been a favorite author of mine. She’s an expert at pulling her readers in right at the start of her stories and then gradually leading them up to the point where you start to realize that something is horribly wrong.  She would have been such a wonderful writer for the old TV series, “The Twilight Zone”.  I had chills through all four of these tales and highly recommend them.