BOOK REVIEW: BLACK DAHLIA & WHITE ROSE (STORIES) BY JOYCE CAROL OATES

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GENERAL INFORMATION  

TITLE: BLACK DAHLIA & WHITE ROSE: STORIES

AUTHOR: JOYCE CAROL OATES

PAGES: 274

PUBLISHER: THE ONTARIO REVIEW

YEAR: 2012

www.usfca.edu/jco

  • Bram Stoker Award, 2012 winner: Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection
  • Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, 2013 shortlist
  • Best American Short Stories, 2011: “I.D.”

BLURB FROM THE COVER

A WILDLY INVENTIVE NEW COLLECTION OF STORIES BY JOYCE CAROL OATES THAT CHARTS THE SURPRISING WAYS IN WHICH THE WORLD WE THINK WE KNOW CAN UNEXPECTEDLY REVEAL ITS DARKER CONTOURS.

The New York Times has hailed Joyce Carol Oates as “a dangerous writer in the best sense of the word, one who takes risks almost obsessively with energy and relish.” Black Dahlia & White Rose, a collection of eleven previously uncollected stories, showcases the keen rewards of Oates’s relentless brio and invention. In one beautifully honed story after another, Oates explores the menace that lurks at the edges of and intrudes upon even the seemingly safest of lives—and maps with rare emotional acuity the transformational cost of such intrusions.

Unafraid to venture into no-man’s-lands both real and surreal, Oates takes readers deep into dangerous territory, from a maximum-security prison—vividly delineating the heart-breaking and unexpected atmosphere of such an institution—to the inner landscapes of two beautiful and mysteriously doomed young women in 1940s Los Angeles: Elizabeth Short, otherwise known as the Black Dahlia, victim of a long-unsolved and particularly brutal murder, and her roommate Norma Jeane Baker, soon to become Marilyn Monroe. Whether exploring the psychological compulsion of the wife of a well-to-do businessman who is ravished by, and elopes with, a lover who is not what he seems or the uneasily duplicitous relationships between young women and their parents, Black Dahlia & White Rose explores the compelling intertwining of dread and desire, the psychic pull and trauma of domestic life, and resonates at every turn with Oates’s mordant humour and her trenchant observation.

EXTRACT

BLACK DAHLIA & WHITE ROSE: Unofficial Investigation into the (Unsolved) Kidnapping-Torture-Rape-Murder-Dissection of Elizabeth Short, 22, Caucasian Female, Los Angeles, CA, January 1947. Material assembled by Joyce Carol Oates.

(BLACK DAHLIA & WHITE ROSE)   

REVIEW

BLACK DAHLIA & WHITE ROSE: This is a great story. I love the way Oates structures this. Oates uses various first person narrators in this story including Elizabeth Short (aka The Black Dahlia) after her murder. I liked the way Oates tackles the brutal subject matter without being gory and over the top. I liked the use of different narrators that allowed Oates to explore the well-known story from different angles.

I.D: Oates leaves the ending of the story open. The teenage narrator is asked to identify the body of a murdered woman. The police believe the woman is her mother as her mother’s belongings were found with the body. The girl claims the body is not her mother. It’s not clear if she’s telling the truth or lying for some reason or confused. I thought this was a sad story. The teenage narrator was very good.

DECEIT: A mother is summoned to her daughter’s school to discuss the fact her daughter has been spotted with terrible bruises and injuries that suggest she’s being physically abused. I liked the character of the mother. She’s a bit of a mess. Oates reveals the reason for the daughter’s injuries but leaves the ending open. I thought this was a great story.

RUN KISS DADDY: I hate the title of this story which explores a middle aged man trying to make his new marriage work and bond with his step-children. This is a powerful, strong story. I thought the man comparing his new marriage to his failed one and fearing he would repeat past mistakes was very believable. I just thought the title of the story sucked.

HEY DAD: Oates offers a great story with this one. The narrator is graduating from college. The man handing out the degree certificates is his father, the man who never knew he existed. Oates uses a sort of stream-of-consciousness style in this story as the narrator contemplates introducing himself to his father, what his reaction could be like and wonders if they have anything in common. Great little story.

THE GOOD SAMARITAN: Oates offers another great story. A woman finds a wallet on the subway and turns up on the door-step of the owner to return it. She finds herself in the middle of a mess. The wallet was owned by a woman who has apparently abandoned her husband and young family. The woman who found the wallet is the narrator. I just really liked this story.

A BRUTAL MURDER IN A PUBLIC PLACE: I didn’t enjoy this story at all. Judging by the title I thought this would be a crime story of some kind, maybe even along the lines of Black Dahlia & White Rose. I thought it was weird especially the end where the narrator seems to turn into bird about to be killed by animal control. This story was too weird and didn’t work very well.

ROMA!: I really enjoyed this story. This time Oates takes us to Rome and gives us a little glimpse inside the life of married couple Alexis and David, on holiday and visiting different parts of the world. Oates takes us inside the secret faces of a long-term relationship and the things couples never say to each other. It’s what’s not on the page that’s important. I had a good time with Roma!

SPOTTED HYENAS: A ROMANCE: With the exception of Black Dahlia & White Rose this s the longest story in the collection. Once again Oates explores the complexities of relationships. A woman seeks out someone from her past when she believes her home is intruded by something or someone. I thought this was a great story. I had a great time reading this. Oates is great at peeling back the layers and showing what’s really going on underneath.

SAN QUENTIN: This is the shortest story in the collection. Like A Brutal Murder in a Public Place, I thought it was okay. The narrator is a man incarcerated in San Quentin, a prison for murder. He has learning problems and has difficulty forming complete sentences. I don’t think this was a very good story.

ANNIVERSARY: Oates visits prison again, this time her characters are a man and a woman, two people who have been hired to teach the prisoners. I like the way she plays the two characters off against each other. The woman is distracted because it’s her anniversary and her husband has been dead for two years. The brutal ending shocked me. Another great story.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Black Dahlia & White Rose is an impressive collection of stories. With the exception of A Brutal Murder in a Public Place and San Quintin, I was impressed by all of the stories. More than one stood out including Black Dahlia & White Rose, I.D., Deceit, Hey Dad and The Good Samaritan. I thought Black Dahlia & White Rose was much better than her last collection, The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares. These are the stories Oates is capable of. She’s on top form again.  

RATING

4 STAR RATING

UP NEXT:

 A Bloodsmoor Romance by Joyce Carol Oates

BLOODSMOOR

Gingerbread Man by Maggie Shayne (e-book)  

GINGERBREAD

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One thought on “BOOK REVIEW: BLACK DAHLIA & WHITE ROSE (STORIES) BY JOYCE CAROL OATES

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