The Evil Eye by Joyce Carol Oates, book review - Reviews - Books - The Independent

Head of Zeus, £16.99. Order at £14.99 inc. p&p from the Independent Bookshop

The Evil Eye by Joyce Carol Oates, book review

 

Joyce Carol Oates is the Stakhanov of contemporary American letters. Where other writers might think it achievable to publish a novel every two, three, or even five years, Oates has averaged two a year since the 1970s. The dustjacket of this collection of novellas cannot even be bothered with a list of highlights, citing the 76-year-old, who is also a professor at Princeton, as "the author of over 70 works".

Some may have just finished Carthage, a satisfyingly complex suspense thriller triggered by a young woman's disappearance in the Adirondacks, which came out in January to admiring reviews. Now, with another publisher, Oates is again twisting readers' expectations, with this slim collection of "four novellas of love gone wrong". Fans of her earlier forays into macabre storytelling, such as 2011's collection, Give Me Your Heart, will revel in the mastery with which Oates makes the gothic contemporary.

As in so much of Oates's work, these stories abound in female victims, sexual violence and predatory males. The first novella, Evil Eye, riffs on the Bluebeard story, but also with its San Francisco Bay setting, recalling Hitchcock's Vertigo. Mariana, the young fourth wife of the respected director of an art institute, lives like a guest in his showcase home perched high on a Berkeley clifftop. One evening his vivacious first wife, Ines, visits and what Mariana observes – or is told that evening – embeds deep distrust in their marriage.

A trusting young woman is also the protagonist of the first-person narrated 1970s-set, So Near Any Time Always, which recounts how a naïve adolescent girl's pride in being singled out by a clever WASPish young man turns sour when his interest becomes predatory.

The third novella, The Execution, allows us into the disturbed mind of just such a spoilt, unbalanced young man. Bart Hansen, high on Ritalin, sets off to murder his parents after they have refused to pay his frat-house debts. But in this clever tale of the unexpected, his mother's love transforms Bart's circumstances, tightening not severing their bond.

Finally in The Flatbed, the outwardly accomplished Ceille is persuaded to reveal painful childhood secrets to a lover. But does the earlier crime justify their subsequent actions, or the thrill they derive from their violence?

There's nowt so queer as rich American folk, might be Oates's thesis. All these readable, but troubling, tales follow gilded, but encaged lives, over which none of her young protagonists are in full control. Oates's coolly precise style suits these dark, disturbing detours. "A shredded-looking sky like old Kleenex" is how she describes the nighttime clouds as Bart heads home to take an axe to his father. Oates unnerves to the last.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week