Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Book: Haunted, by Joyce Carol Oates

Subtitled: Tales of the Grotesque. OK, small confession. Did not actually finish this book. I read about five of the short stories. It went something like this:

First story: Hey, maybe I was wrong about JCO! Maybe it's going to be okay! Maybe I like this book! It's strange, haunting, a little puzzling, but I think I might be okay with it...

Second story: Hmm. Well, that wasn't too bad, I guess. But I didn't really get it. What was with that thing at the end? And what's the deal with the dog? And..

Third story: Ew, yuck. I am extremely disturbed. And not in a good way.

Fourth story: WTF? I don't get it. I don't like it, I don't get it, it makes me feel yucky, I don't understand what she was trying to say, I don't get the Big Mystery. Did not like.

Fifth story: I can't read any more of this.

I didn't like it very much. One of the stories was seriously disturbing, and like I said, not in a good way. It made me want to take a shower and forget that I had ever read it. The other ones were extremely enigmatic, very unclear, very deliberately trying to be some metaphor that I couldn't understand.

For instance, one of the stories is about a little girl who has a beautiful doll house that she loves very much, complete with dolls (including a boy with red hair) and a toy dog. She grows up, is on a business trip, and sees her exact dollhouse, only on real-life scale, an actual house. She gets up the courage to go see who lives there. A man with red hair lives there, with his dog. (okay, a little creepy, right? Maybe it's going to be good, right?) The conversation they have turns strange, and the dog keeps peeing on the floor, and the man starts to berate the woman for being a "bad girl! bad, bad girl!" and there are other weird things happening, so she somehow finds a way to leave although the dog has plastered itself to her in this really strange and yucky way. The next day she gives her speech and is very successful, and JCO makes a big point of saying how this woman never married, and seemed to be trying to make some sort of point about the woman being empty on the inside, "a doll". Or something. I don't know. It was heavy-handed in some very unclear way.
Maybe I'm just obtuse, but I didn't get it. It seemed creepy, but then it was just weird, and I didn't understand the point she was trying to make. Why was there just the man, and not the rest of the dolls? What was with the dog? It was icky. And what was the point of this woman never marrying? I didn't get it, and felt very confused and disturbed, but not in any good way, just like, what? What was that? I could get behind the premise of how creepy and strange it would be to come across this dollhouse in real life, and to find out that the people who lived there were like the dolls she had. That's creepy enough, right? But then I didn't understand the strange turn it took, and I did not get the ending at all. (this is a problem I have with short stories in general. The endings always seem sort of arbitrary and I usually feel unsatisfied)

The rest of the stories were like that, too. They start off with a good premise, and I'm like, okay! Maybe something creepy and disturbing (in a good way). And then at the end, I'm left with this icky feeling and not at all understanding what happened.

When I lived in Finland, the Oulu library had three good-sized shelves of English-language novels (we were very lucky). There were many Joyce Carol Oates books, for some reason. D'Arcy and I would each check out our limit, read our stash, then switch the books, and then return the books and start all over. Neither of us liked the JCO books and we stopped checking them out. I remember us both being like, it seems like she's supposed to be this really great author, but what's the big deal? And why are the books so strange?
Her writing just leaves me cold, I feel like there is no soul behind the words and I am always left with this vague creeped-out feeling. I can't remember what other books of hers we read, but every time I pick one up at the library to consider reading it (trying to give her another chance) I just get this bad feeling. I don't want to read them. I only picked up this one because, hello, Haunted. I was thinking maybe her writing style would be suited to horror (or, grotesque). Instead, I just found it icky, cold, and made me really uncomfortable and made me feel bad. It makes me not want to meet her at all, I would think she is totally cold and not someone I would like to shake hands with. I'm probably wrong, but I do not like her books.

So there.


Alex said...

I have never read JCO, although I did at one point own "Because It's Bitter and Because It's My Heart." Intriguing title, but I never actually opened the book. She is very prolific, so I feel like I should read her, but I'm not drawn to her for some reason.

Other authors I've never read: Stephen King, JK Rawling, Norman Mailer, Jane Austen (yup), VC Andrews, Salman Rushdie.

I have, however, read Michelle Obama's Princeton thesis, so I'm in select company!

Nymeth said...

Although I do like JCO's writing (or what I've read of it so far, which wasn't much), I agree that she is disturbing, and I can see how her stories made you feel the way they did. I haven't read this particular collection, but if I were reading something that made me feel so unsatisfied I would have dropped it too.

Daphne said...

Alex: she does have great titles, and I am always intrigued by her books, but I get a bad feeling when I pick them up so I won't read them. We have one titled "Blonde" at home right now... won't read that one either.

Nymeth: I'm a fan of creepy, but something about her writing is just kind of icky to me. I don't know why.

D'Arcy said...

I don't even remember that whole JCO thing in Finland. Funny.

Daphne said...

I just remember because we were both like, what is the big deal about her? We do not like her!! And we were so desperate for books, it was a big deal to write off an author, a prolific one at that!!