TITLE: WHERE IS HERE? STORIES (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Where-Here-Joyce-Carol-Oates/dp/0880012838/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1345189621&sr=8-1)
AUTHOR: JOYCE CAROL OATES (http://www.usfca.edu/jco/)
PUBLISHER: THE ECCO PRESS (http://www.harpercollins.com/imprints/index.aspx?imprintid=517997/)
GENRE: SHORT FICTION
BLURB FROM THE BACK COVER
In dramatic, tightly focused narrative charged with tension, menace and the shock of the unexpected, ‘Where is Here?’ examines a world in which ordinary life is electrified by the potential for sudden change. Domestic violence, fear of abandonment and betrayal, and the obsession with loss shadow the characters that inhabit these startling, intriguing stories. With the precision and intensity that are the hallmarks of her remarkable talent, Joyce Carol Oates explores the unexpected turns of events that leave people vulnerable and struggling to puzzle out the consequences of their abrupt reversals of fortune.
As in the title story, in which a married couple find their controlled life irrevocably altered by a stranger’s visit, the fiction in this new collection is punctuated again and again by mysterious, perhaps unanswerable questions. Out of what does our life arise? Out of what does our conscious arise? Why are we here? Where is here? Like the questions they pose, these tales – unfold with the enigmatic twists of riddles and, often, the blunt shock of tragedy. ‘Where is Here’ is the work of a master practitioner of the short story…
I decided to read this after reading her recent lacklustre collection of short stories The Corn Maiden & Other Nightmares which I gave a negative review of (http://thebookloversboudoir.wordpress.com/2012/07/21/the-corn-maiden-and-other-nightmares-by-joyce-carol-oates/). I wanted Oates to redeem herself.
Where is Here? is an earlier collection and was published when Oates was at the top of her game. It was published at the same time as her brilliant novella Black Water (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Water_(novella).
I thought the story contained forty+ stories but it contains thirty-six stories. The stories are generally very short. The longest stories are four or five pages long and the shortest are a page or less.
The stories explore themes that Oates tackles again and again in her short fiction and her full-length novels. She tackles domestic violence, fear of abandonment, betrayal (both emotional and physical), an obsession with loss and grief.
This is a remarkable collection of short stories. The best stories in the collection are Area Man Crucified, The Ice Pick, From the Life Of…, Murder, Love, Forever and Where is Here? My personal favourite was Love, Forever in which a mother decides to kill her three young children because her latest boyfriend doesn’t like kids. Oates was clearly inspired by the made-for TV movie Small Sacrifices or Ann Rule’s book of the same name (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_Sacrifices). I also loved The Ice Pick in which a middle-aged man becomes convinced his wife is having an affair. This conviction becomes obsession and drives him to murder her, in a cake shop in broad daylight. The murder weapon is an ice pick. Where is Here is quite tame compared to the rest of the stories. A married couple’s domestic bliss is shattered one night when a stranger turns up on their doorstep and claims he grew up in the house. They feel obliged to give him a tour and in the end need to force him to leave. Nothing violent or dangerous happens but the underlying threat that it could works very well
Overall, this is a strong collection. It’s much better than her latest The Corn Maiden & Other Nightmares. She’s redeemed herself to an extent but I find it unsettling her earlier short fiction is so superior to her recent stuff. Shouldn’t a writer improve with time as their skill becomes honed?
THE OPENING LINE:
I just want to touch you a little…LETHAL
The stories in this collection are all very strong with Area Man Crucified, The Ice Pick, From the Life Of…, Murder, Love, Forever and Where is Here? being the strongest. Oates manages to achieve a lot considering how short the stories are.
I thought some of the stories could have been a bit longer. I’m not a huge fan of flash fiction. I like a bit more flesh on the bones of my stories. This is a personal thing and no reflection on Oates as a writer.
I thought this would take another couple of weeks to read because I only read one story a day. I rushed through the second half of the book because I wanted to get started on a collection of stores I just bought, Strange Wine by Harlan Ellison (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strange_Wine). The stories are engaging, thought-provoking and very well written.