This is Joyce Carol Oates’s first novel, recently re-released with a new cover and new audiobook. I recently read and reviewed her other early novel “them” and found it more or less ok but mired by some issues regarding pacing, tone, and plotting. And the same is true here.
Let me start by explaining why I keep reading Joyce Carol Oates. I am chasing a dragon. I LOVE her short story “Where are you Going? Where have you Been?” I think it’s virtuosic and weird and dark and sinister and wonderful. And then when I read other of her early novels I am hoping for the same blend. But then what I get instead is a kind B-movie plotline with a similar kind of tone. It’s falsely overserious and hooks two very different set of events onto one another in a single novel and I am not sure it works that well. The characters are fairly well-rendered, but the plot is goofy and not good. It reads like Faulkner wrote Rebel Without a Cause, but it doesn’t have the Southern gothic genius or the geographical spaces that cultivate that weirdness. And so it feels played at. It reminds me a lot of a movie no one really saw “The Place Beyond the Pines” and like that movie it fails because it borrows heavily from Southern gothic, takes places in the North, and assumes the same kind of magic can happen. And it turns out it just can’t, really.