October 01, 2013

Gothic suspense in gripping novellas of love

By Joyce Carol Oates
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“All love is desperate.” With this phrase, celebrated author Joyce Carol Oates manifests love gone wrong in Evil Eye, four novellas ringing of Gothic horror. Taking a page from du Maurier’s Rebecca, Oates puppeteers her childlike heroines through scenes of despondency set in the twisted, delusional reality that can be love, with the backdrop of oppressive circumstances and possessive men with gnarled secrets.

In the first novella, “Evil Eye,” Mariana has been subdued after her parents’ death and is tended to like a bird with a broken wing by a highbrow gentleman much her senior. His adoration and care result in her becoming his fourth wife. When his first wife visits, unsettling secrets come to light between his fits of rage, challenging both Mariana’s marriage and sanity.

In “So Near Anytime Always,” unassuming Lizbeth begins an innocent courtship with charming Desmond, a man with an air of elegance and worldliness. Their promising romance turns menacing after Desmond’s delusional outbursts of control.

The book crescendoes with “The Execution,” a grotesque tale of a well-to-do family and their resentful son. Bart seeks bloody retribution against his parents, and his plan is perfect by design: the layout, the execution and the getaway. Only his mother’s resilient love threatens to get in the way.

In the last novella, “The Flatbed,” the sexual oppression Cecelia endured as a child haunts her and threatens her relationships as an adult, lacing any sexual experience with overpowering tremors and bouts of hysteria. It isn’t until she discloses her unfathomable past to the love of her life that justice is served.

Through gripping stories that entertain and chill, Oates breeds psychological horror in our most vulnerable emotion: love. A fantastically unnerving read, the dazing darkness in Evil Eye comes from the possible reality of the circumstances.

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Evil Eye

Evil Eye

By Joyce Carol Oates
Mysterious Press
ISBN 9780802120472

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