Yet Another Joyce Carol Oates Novel

Originally published on 2 February 2012

I promise this is the last one I’ll review for a little while. (Okay, maybe not… another one of her fairy-tale-like novellas is sitting on my shelf.) This time, I’m here to talk about a book that should be much, much better known among her work than it is… Expensive People. It is definitely part of her early period… there are only four previous ones listed in the front matter, and it came out a few years before I did. And yes, it’s flawed in spots… the middle part does slack off a little bit, and it’s not as tightly woven as the books from the 80s and 90s that she is rightfully famous for.

Folks, this book is the definition of modern gothic creepiness. No dark looming castles, no estates, no emo vampires (sparkly and pedophiley, or depressed and eating rats in New Orleans), and nothing that jumps out and nails you in the xiphoid process. But this book starts off fairly simple, if a little dark, with the story of a teenager typing his memoirs after declaring that he was a child murderer (not someone who murders children, but a murderer who is a child… though he’s not completely sure about this, either). From there, the book shows him slipping into madness and/ or adolescence (she does an amazing job of showing a character who can’t quite trust himself because of what he’s going through) and while his narrative seems somewhat straightforward, it doubles and triples back on itself. By the end of Part Two, the cracks in his story are gaping holes, and you’re left wondering if he even knows the truth of what he’s talking about. And Part Three just twists the story all to hell.

This is probably another case where I’ve checked out a book from the library, only to know that I’m going to buy the damn thing eventually.

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