Well, that was upsetting.
I can’t remember the last Oates book I read, but this was a wonderful (and horrifying) way to jump back in.
I really don’t want to meet anyone like Q__ P__, ever. We join him mid-narrative, following him just under a year after he is given probation by a judge for pleading guilty to “sexual misdemeanor committed against a minor,” (Q__ P__: “What happened with the black boy was Q__ P__’ s first offense, & a suspended sentence followed no actual jail time beyond the detention center— THAT IS THE PUBLIC RECORD.”) and leaving him not long after the first year of that probation is over. This is a terrifying and vivid snapshot into his mind.
He does speak the narrative directly to the reader, even saying “you,” at one point, and the biggest mystery to me was “who is ‘you’”? But it didn’t bother me that I never learned to whom his narrative is directed. What bothered me more were the incredibly specific details of his history of repeatedly kidnapping, raping, and killing strangers in a life-long pursuit of happiness in the form of his very own “ZOMBIE”: someone he will have properly lobotomized, who will love him unconditionally, “be respectful at all times,” “lick with his tongue as bidden,” “spread the cheeks of his ass as bidden,” and “rest his head on my shoulder like a baby,” among other things.
Q__ P__ goes off of his meds, abuses alcohol and drugs, has some kind of social disorder (eye contact is a major trigger for him), was bullied into remaining closeted by his father’s shame, and has incredibly troubling thoughts about power in society: he targets poor boys of color (who won’t be missed because no one loves them and society doesn’t care about them); he barely tolerates his mother, grandmother, and the other women in his life because as “females,” they are useless to the world, and besides, they mostly want only to have babies or treat people like babies.
It’s a tough read. It’s beautifully written, and wonderfully stylized (Oates uses upper case emphases and punctuation in a very specific and valuable way), but to say it’s haunting is an understatement. I’m super ready for a palate cleanser.