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VINE VOICEon November 27, 2014
This is actually a collection of stories, the longest of which is the "The Corn Maiden." It's a really disturbing story of how far kids can be pushed to go along with harmful behavior even when they clearly know what they are doing is wrong. In this case, one very disturbed girl gets to go way too far with a human sacrifice and the rest of the story is how it draws together people who might never have met. The other stories are fine, but they don't stick with you like The Corn Maiden. The author seems to have a negative fixation on twins that might be fun to explore in therapy, but I really didn't get the point here. I do recommend this book, though, because it will definitely creep you out. I'll never forget the ending, even if I want to.
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on June 20, 2017
Joyce Carol Oates is one of my favorite authors. She has thousands of voices and can write an internal dialogue like nobody else. The characters in this collection of stories have no redemptive qualities. Maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind to read this at this time, but I was left feeling lukewarm. I can't drum up sorrow or pity or extreme dislike or revulsion for any of the characters for a sustained amount of time. Upon reflection, it's precisely because Oates is such a gifted writer she manages to encapsulate all the human drama into her characters. Maybe that's what's got me feeling lukewarm - these characters do what they do given their circumstances. I want humanity to behave better. Oates shows me that most won't.
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on November 15, 2015
In seven Gothic tales, the prolific Joyce Carol Oates tells us what it’s like to be trapped in your own personal Hell.

The damned are a girl about to be sacrificed, a man who thought a younger woman was coming on to him, a girl fascinated by a stray cat, a twin dominated by his brother, another twin dominated by HIS brother, a widow who hopes a younger man will take care of her, and a plastic surgeon whose operation goes awry.

The collection is billed as “Nightmares.” Long nightmares can be boring. Short nightmares tend to be scarier. These nightmares are short. Oates does not waste our time. She takes us straight to the main character’s Hell.

In the title story, a novella, 11-year-old Marissa with hair the color of corn silk is held captive by Jude, a troubled girl who wants to enact a Native American myth in which a maiden is sacrificed to ensure a good crop. Marissa’s mother is frantic. Should she trust Mr. Z, the substitute teacher? There is a sacrifice.

In “Beersheba,” Brad is tracked down by Stacy Lynn, the daughter of his second wife who is now all grown-up. She lures him to the cemetery in Beersheba, a lakeside settlement. For romance? No, for vengeance. Brad pleads that he is innocent. She doesn’t believe him.

In “Nobody Knows My Name,” little Jessica is drawn to a homeless thistledown gray cat. Nobody knows his name. Did the cat try to suck her breath? What is the cat doing in her baby sister’s bassinet? “Mommy!”

“Fossil-Figures” and “Death-Cup” are each about a set of twins, one dominant and the other resentful.

“Fossil-Figures” starts in the womb. The larger twin is embracing the smaller one as if to devour him. Edgar, the larger twin, goes on to a life of success, elected to Congress. Edward, the sickly brother, stays home, creating artworks. An exhibit called “Fossil-Figures” features a piece that includes something from the human body. The congressman is charged with corruption. Destroyed, he moves in with Edward. Together again.

“Ðeath-Cup” starts with a funeral for the wealthy uncle of adult twins Lyle, who never left home, and Alastor, who traveled the world and is admired by everyone except Lyle. Alastor stays and becomes head of the family. Lyle serves him mushroom soup, which he thinks contains death-cup, a poisonous toadstool. Alastor consumes three bowls with no ill effects. They go for a drive in the uncle’s Rolls-Royce with Lyle at the wheel. Watch out for that truck!

“Helping Hands” is the name of a charity thrift shop to benefit veterans. Helene, shy and newly widowed, brings in some of her late husband’s clothing. She becomes friendly with Nicolas, a disabled vet who works there. He comes to her stately house in a truck to pick up more donations. She wants a tender relationship. He wants something else.

“A Hole in the Head” is a reference to a quack surgical procedure in which a hole is drilled into the skull to release toxic thoughts. Irma Siegfried, rich and unhappy, convinces Dr. Lucas Brede, a plastic surgeon, to perform the procedure on her. He is dubious but needs the money. The drilling does not go well. Dr. Brede must figure out what to do with Irma.
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on December 4, 2014
Due to unfavorable revues I did not expect the amazing turnaround the reading of this book gave me. Whether the writing is so excellent is not my review, but the meaning the author reveals through the plot.
The story is about a vulnerable not too bright school girl who is "captured" by a group of slightly older girls, taken to the basement of a house, drugged, dressed in silks in the freezing cold room and slowly starved to become a ritual sacrifice. One of the girls is the leader. She intimidates her all too obedient, scared friends into going along with this dreadful kidnaping.
It is not just the story that is so gripping. It's the all too familiar domination of the strong over the weak, a leader's influence over followers, the warped mind of someone on drugs and believing themselves to be powerful and special in an evil way.
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VINE VOICEon October 3, 2014
In this short story collection of seven suspenseful tales, Joyce Carol Oates takes the reader along on various journeys into the psyche of evil, while also showing us the naivete and innocence of the victims in each piece.

In the opening title story, The Corn Maiden, we are greeted first with the oddly deranged voice of the thirteen-year-old perpetrator, Jude Trahern, a child of privilege and a fellow student, who has captured Marissa Bantry, eleven years old, whom she has dubbed "The Corn Maiden" because of her long silky blond hair. Under her thumb are two other girls, her assistants. But Jude is the Master Mind. Torture follows, and we then see what is happening outside the torture chamber: Marissa's mother Leah, morose and concerned that she will be blamed for allowing her child to go home alone after school, and worries about how she will be perceived.

Another player in the tale is a male computer consultant, blamed by an anonymous eyewitness.

As readers, we can share the angst of the mother and the "innocent" suspect, knowing all the while who is behind the events. Why has Jude captured this sweet young girl? What is in it for her?

Like so many other stories by this author, evil seems to have no explanation, but the reader can speculate.

In Helping Hands, near the end of the collection, a shy middle-aged widow believes she has found potential companionship in the charity thrift shop where she takes some of her deceased husband's effects, only to discover that she has sadly miscalculated the troubled young man who waits on her and seems so friendly and helpful.

As with many of her other short stories, I enjoyed the well-written prose, but I was happy to close the final page of The Corn Maiden, and told myself that I was relieved to be set free from them. Others might enjoy the macabre suspense, but for me, this one earned 3.5 stars.
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on December 23, 2014
So far I have only had time to read the first, title story. However, this story is of novella length - 138 pages. Since there are only five stories and 365 pages, this story represents more than a third of the book (almost 38%). But what a fine story! I have long admired Oates as a highly sophisticated literary author. The Corn Maiden, though, while as well-written as anything else of hers I've ever read, reminds me of a more refined, ladylike Stephen King story--absolutely terrifying. Spoiler alert: Despite the horrific content, it has a positive resolution, also like Stephen King's works (a qualified "happy ending"). I am very much looking forward to reading the other stories in this book and am so glad I ordered it. She is such a talented writer with such a deft touch. It's always a pleasure to read anything by an author so accomplished.
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on November 13, 2015
Joyce Carol Oates braids together the dark suspense of Edgar Allen Poe, the prophetic imagination of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the finely-tuned attention to the images of ordinary things of Emily Dickinson, and the subtly sarcastic wit of Mark Twain. Reading these short stories is like entering the mind of a nineteenth century genius translating the 21st-century world of moral disappointment and technological obsession for the perplexed.
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on October 13, 2016
I love Joyce Carol Oates and this book was not a disappointment. She always writes about subjects they have touched our own lives and this was no different.
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on September 26, 2017
Excellent. First story is my personal fav, so good :)
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on August 18, 2016
Liked the unusual perspectives of the characters. Not your ordinary stories for sure. A little creepy at times, but held the interest.
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