Evil Eye: Four Novellas of Love Gone Wrong by Joyce Carol Oates
The Mysterious Press (hardback), 2013
BLURB FROM THE COVER
Joyce Carol Oates has proven herself one of the world’s foremost chroniclers of the darkness that lurks within the human heart. In Evil Eye, Oates offers four chilling novellas of love so powerful that people might die—or kill—for it.
In the title story, we meet Mariana, the young fourth wife of a prominent intellectual. When her husband’s brazen first wife visits, Mariana learns a terrible secret that threatens her marriage and sanity. In “so Near Any Time Always,” shy teenager Lizbeth meets Desmond, a charming older boy who offers this introverted girl her first sparks of romance. Yet just as their relationship begins to blossom, Lizbeth realizes that a menacing soul lies beneath Desmond’s perfect façade. In “The Execution,” spoiled college student Bart Hansen has planned the perfect, brutal crime to get back at his parents for their years of condescension. What he didn’t plan on was the resilience of his mother’s love, even in the face of death. And in “The Flatbed,” childhood trauma has prevented Cecelia from enjoying the pleasures of physical intimacy with a man, but when the love of her life comes along, Cecelia must confront the demon who stole her innocence long ago.
Drenched with suspense and dread, and featuring the razor-sharp prose that has made Joyce Carol Oates a living legend, Evil Eye shows love as sporadically magical, mysterious, and murderous.
It had belonged to his first wife, he’d said.
First wife so casually uttered – she, who was the fourth wife, could have no basis for misinterpretation.
That is, no basis for hurt. For envy, jealousy. Even, the husband seemed to suggest, in the almost negligent way in which he spoke of the first wife to whom he’d been married, a lifetime ago, when we were other people –curiosity.
And so, she’d known not to ask about the wife.
EVIL EYE: I didn’t think this was a very good tale. I liked some aspects of it. I like the way JCO examined the relationship between the husband and his first and most recent wife. I like the fact the husband was quite domineering and abusive. The rest of the novella was quite weak. I didn’t understand what big secret the new wife discovered that almost cost her sanity. JCO never makes this quite clear so I found the tale confusing overall. Did the new wife hallucinate that the first wife had an eye missing or was the eye really removed and who by? The husband? Someone else? Did the husband really kill his first child by intentionally rolling the baby on its front so it would suffocate? There is some good stuff here but it gets lost in the confusing mess.
SO NEAR ANY TIME ALWAYS: This was a very good story. Dark, creepy and unsettling. I liked the way JCO builds tension. Some elements remind me of her novel, Because It Is Bitter, And Because It Is My Heart.
THE EXECUTION: I really enjoyed this story that deals with patricide. The story gets pretty dark at times. I liked the fact it was told from the son’s point of view. I found it odd that the mother identified her son as her attacker and her husband’s killer then changed her mind completely. Did she really think it was a dream? Was she too afraid to face the truth about what happened? Did her son threaten her in some way?
THE FLATBED: I thought this story was really good. I thought that woman’s fear of sex and penetration because of repressed childhood memories of abuse was very realistic and well-written. The story took a much darker turn than expected at the end.
GENERAL IMPRESSION: I thought this was an overall good collection of four novellas. However, the weak title tale spoiled my overall enjoyment and let JCO down. This could have been a great collection if Evil Eye was not included.