Monday, September 21, 2009

The Tattooed Girl by Joyce Carol Oates

The Tattooed Girl by Joyce Carol Oates is quite simply a horrifying, heartbreaking story.

It actually recalls the underhanded sadism that was in Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been, which just so happened to be my introduction to Oates.

It's haunted me ever since I read it.

This story will in turns surprise, repulse and touch you.

Early in the book, we are introduced to a character, Dmitri the waiter, who doesn’t seem like a bad guy at first, and then, as Oates gradually and methodically peels back his layers, we are shocked to find that he is truly and evil fuck.

His brutality is truly sickening and through his character, Oates manages to do the impossible. As I was reading one passage, I felt ashamed of myself.

Not because I had done anything even close to that, but because I was a man.

Or rather because I was human.

The characters in this book are more than dysfunctional; they are simply broken.

It’s odd but strangely touching how two people, so fucked up they could hardly pass for rational develop this kind of affection, friendship, love and then complete dependency.

This book is filled with surprises and I’m not talking about show-offy twists in the vein of Shyamalan or Palahniuk, (although I do think Palahniuk is the exception to the rule as far as dramatic surprises go. He is one of the few that can pull it off and make it feel organic.)

Oates amazed me with how quickly the hatred of her characters can turn to love and vice versa.

She offers insight into why some people love monsters unconditionally.

Another surprise is the tender romance that blossoms between Joshua Siegl and Sondra Blumenthal, who is pretty much the only functional character in this story.

What sets Oates apart is that most writers feel a need to define their characters whereas Oates realizes that this is not always possible since most people don’t know who they are themselves.

Still, she treats her characters with an affection and delicacy that is so rare in an age of mostly cynical and sarcastic art.

This, like Oates' Black Water,' is an incredible, devastating novel and seriously, whether you’ve read Oates or not, whether you’ve liked her before or not, give this one a shot because not only does Oates understand the craft of writing better than most writers, she understand what it means to be human more than most people.

1 comment:

  1. I just happened to come across your blog surfing about John Waters. I like it.

    -Charlottesville, VA