REVIEW: THE CORN MAIDEN (AND OTHER NIGHTMARES), BY JOYCE CAROL OATES

3306

 

 

 

In this short story collection of seven suspenseful tales, Joyce Carol Oates takes the reader along on various journeys into the psyche of evil, while also showing us the naivete and innocence of the victims in each piece.

In the opening title story, The Corn Maiden, we are greeted first with the oddly deranged voice of the thirteen-year-old perpetrator, Jude Trahern, a child of privilege and a fellow student, who has captured Marissa Bantry, eleven years old, whom she has dubbed “The Corn Maiden” because of her long silky blond hair. Under her thumb are two other girls, her assistants. But Jude is the Master Mind. Torture follows, and we then see what is happening outside the torture chamber: Marissa’s mother Leah, morose and concerned that she will be blamed for allowing her child to go home alone after school, and worries about how she will be perceived.

Another player in the tale is a male computer consultant, blamed by an anonymous eyewitness.

As readers, we can share the angst of the mother and the “innocent” suspect, knowing all the while who is behind the events. Why has Jude captured this sweet young girl? What is in it for her?

Like so many other stories by this author, evil seems to have no explanation, but the reader can speculate.

In Helping Hands, near the end of the collection, a shy middle-aged widow believes she has found potential companionship in the charity thrift shop where she takes some of her deceased husband’s effects, only to discover that she has sadly miscalculated the troubled young man who waits on her and seems so friendly and helpful.

As with many of her other short stories, I enjoyed the well-written prose, but I was happy to close the final page of The Corn Maiden, and told myself that I was relieved to be set free from them. Others might enjoy the macabre suspense, but for me, this one earned 3.5 stars.

DEMONIC HAPPENINGS IN 20TH CENTURY PRINCETON — A REVIEW

15818440An ambitious chronicle of early Twentieth Century life in and around Princeton University is the backdrop for The Accursed, a novel reportedly thirty years in the making.

M.W. van Dyck II is portrayed as the author and narrator. Accursed refers to the strange, almost demonic occurrences that seemingly creep into the daily lives of Princeton University’s leaders, as well as those of certain well-known political figures living in and around Princeton in the early years of the Twentieth Century.

We meet these historic characters amongst a cast of fictional ones. The times seem historically correct, and the events could be stunning and compelling. But the lengthy and often unwieldy storytelling left me fatigued and disappointed, as the author is one I have enjoyed on several occasions.

I most enjoyed the chapters dealing with the character, Annabel, who was about to be married. Less appealing was the character, Woodrow Wilson, who would later become President of the United States. At the time, he was President of Princeton, and in a perceived competition with another staff member. His behavior and expressed feelings in his social interactions bordered on paranoia. These qualities made him somewhat unappealing, but also interesting.

When I would find myself in one of the sections that interested me, my reading pace picked up. The prose flowed, perhaps because I felt connected to the characters. But other sections, and they were more numerous, dragged and left me feeling distracted. I would reread paragraphs, because I could not connect to anything that was happening.

I have read and enjoyed numerous lengthy books, but for some reason, this one did not engage me. Perhaps because of the somewhat tedious sections, but also because there was a lot of repetition.

Others have enjoyed the book, however, so readers should refer to those reviews when drawing their conclusions. For me, this book earned 3.5 stars.