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The Corn Maiden First Edition Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0802126023
ISBN-10: 9780802126023
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Editorial Reviews

Review

From Publishers Weekly:

The seven stories in this stellar collection from the prolific Oates (Give Me Your Heart) may prompt the reader to turn on all the lights or jump at imagined noises. In the excruciating title tale, a novella subtitled “A Love Story,” an adolescent girl leads two of her friends in the kidnapping of 11-year old Marissa Bantry to enact the ritual sacrifice of the Corn Maiden as performed by the Onigara Indians. Children or childhood traumas play significant roles in “Beersheba,” in which a man’s past catches up to him, and “Nobody Knows My Name,” in which the birth of a sibling turns nine-year-old Jessica’s world upside down. Twins figure in both the eerie “Fossil-Figures” and the harrowing “Death-Cup” with its sly allusions to Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson.” In “A Hole in the Head,” a plastic surgeon succumbs to a patient’s request for an unusual operation with unexpected results. This volume burnishes Oates’s reputation as a master of psychological dread.

From Kirkus Reviews:

Seven nightmarish tales written over a 15-year period.

The first and longest story is the title novella, about Jude Trahern, a precocious and evil eighth-grader who abducts a fellow classmate, Marissa, to enact a ritual human sacrifice. Brilliant, charismatic and severely disturbed, Jude chooses Marissa because of the latter’s status as an outsider, both new to the school and set apart by her intellectual slowness. Jude enlists two of her friends in the elaborately planned ceremony, but their enthusiasm begins to wane as things start to get spookier and it becomes clear that Jude is serious about following through on the ritual. Meanwhile, Marissa’s mother, Leah, becomes frantic about her missing daughter and starts to believe in the guilt of Mikal Zallman, a part-time employee at the school whom Jude has cleverly implicated. The story ends on a jarring and somewhat surreal note as Leah and Mikal develop a romantic attachment. Throughout this collection Oates is fascinated by the idea of doubling, for example in “Death-Cup,” in which Lyle King tries to poison his evil twin Alastor with Amanita mushroom soup. Alastor is the “evil” brother, successful on the outside but unscrupulous within, and Lyle finds out that ultimately they can never be separated. (It’s no coincidence that Lyle is designing a new edition, “with hand-sewn pages and letterpress printing,” of Poe’s “William Wilson.”) Similarly, in “Fossil-Figures,” brothers Edgar and Edward Waldman mirror opposing sides of the self, while in the masterful “Beersheba” womanizer Brad gets his comeuppance at the hands of Stacy Lynn, who at first comes on to him seductively and then exacts a terrible revenge.

While the shadows of Poe and Hitchcock loom over these tales, it’s clear that Oates herself is a master at creeping out her readers.


Praise for Joyce Carol Oates:

"Oates is just a fearless writer ... with her brave heart and her impossibly lush and dead-on imaginative powers." —Los Angeles Times

"If the phrase 'woman of letters' existed, Joyce Carol Oates would be, foremost in this country, entitled to it." —John Updike

"What keeps us coming back to Oates country is her uncanny gift of making the page a window, with something happening on the other side that we'd swear was life itself." —The New York Times Book Review

"Her genius happens to be giant." —The Washington Post Book World

"No living American writer echoes the chord of dread plucked by Edgar Allen Poe quite like Joyce Carol Oates." —The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Mysterious Press; First Edition edition (November 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780802126023
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802126023
  • ASIN: 0802126022
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,301,041 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Joyce Carol Oates has a way of writing horrific stories that aren't quite "horror" in the traditional sense of the genre. Dark, violent and emotional, her short stories explore human desperation and depravity without supernatural forces. Her latest, THE CORN MAIDEN AND OTHER NIGHTMARES, is just as creepy, provocative and finely crafted as her earlier collections.

In these seven stories, Oates examines the fragility of the human mind as well as the human propensity for destruction. The title story, and by far the longest, "The Corn Maiden" tells the tale of the kidnapping of 11-year-old Marissa Bantry by three 13-year-old schoolmates. The beautiful but sensitive and awkward Marissa draws the attention of Judah Trahern, a disturbed and neglected girl from a prominent family. The self-styled "Master of Eyes," Jude orchestrates Marissa's kidnapping and designates her the Corn Maiden. The Corn Maiden is meant as a crop-ensuring sacrifice, but for Jude, the enterprise is tangled in her jealousy, attraction and hatred toward Marissa and her mother, Leah.

In the days Jude and her accomplices keep Marissa drugged and naked in her basement, Leah is frantic with worry and guilt. As a single working mother, she fears the accusations she'll face in contacting the authorities. Her inner dialogue is frantic and riveting, and perfectly parallels that of Mikal Zallman, the teacher questioned in the wake of Marissa's disappearance. In fact, though the plot moves actively forward, the genius of this short story is the inner dialogue of main characters Jude, Leah and Mikal, as well as the two friends who help Jude. Marissa is observed and reacted to, a placeholder for the emotions of the others. Oates resolves this tense story in an unexpected and shocking way.
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Format: Hardcover
Joyce Carol Oates' latest collection of stories isn't for the faint-heated. The title story -- about a girl who doesn't come home from school -- focuses less on the terror that the girl will experience than on the guilt her working class mother feels at leaving her eleven-year-old daughter home alone until she returns from the late shift she's forced to work. Guilt gives way to fear: What kind of problems will she cause for herself if she calls 911? What judgments will she face? What will the police think about the beer she's drinking to calm her nerves as she considers where her daughter might have gone? Oates uses the chilling circumstances to explore diverse sources of terror: the twisted child responsible for the missing girl's fate; the police officers who accuse and intimidate the innocent; journalists who are willing to report innuendo in their lust for a sensational story; therapists who insist that it is healthy to dredge up memories best left dormant. This is a powerful, sometimes touching, incredibly intense piece of writing. It is the longest and best of the seven stories in the collection.

My second favorite story, "Helping Hands," tells of a new widow who, in desperate loneliness, takes up with a wounded veteran. Envisioning herself as his savior and him as her protective companion, she invests him with qualities of sensitivity and intelligence that he clearly lacks, while remaining willfully blind to the man's dangerous instability.
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Format: Hardcover
After reading this book the question arose: have I really changed this much, or has Joyce Carol Oates? I used to look forward to every new Oates book (and given how prolific she was, I rarely had to wait long!) and proudly declared her my favorite living writer. That was then. Now I usually get her books from the library instead of buying them because after a score of disappointments, I've learned not to invest money in reads that let me down so badly.

The Corn Maiden resides in the tradition of a long string of its recent predecessors in that it bored, repulsed and annoyed me by being the quite honestly bad literature that it was. Not one story in this collection had any shine to it, not one enthralled, not one entertained, not one of them mirrored anything like the talent Joyce Carol Oates proved long ago that she had. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, and instead would point a would-be Oates reader back to her pre-1995 canon where many fine titles await.

I think it is fair to say Oates' career can be broken down as follows:

1960-1989 was an epoch of magnificent writing from Joyce Carol Oates. No writer in America or for all I know the world could touch the consistency and quantity of her gloriously cerebral yet visceral output.

1990-1999 gave us a mixed bag. In this era was the polished brilliance of her short story collection Heat, the gritty psychodrama of Foxfire and Zombie, yet also the melodrama-by-the-numbers of the inexplicably well-received We Were the Mulvaney's.

2000-2012 has been a sad time in this author's career. Middle Age is the one book of hers from this period I have actually enjoyed and whose quality I would rank among that of her books from the 20th century.
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