Tuesday, 27 June 2017

DIS MEM BER and Other Stories of Mystery and Suspense by Joyce Carol Oates Review

I’ve always wanted to read a Joyce Carol Oates book but never have until now - and I’m not encouraged to read any more! Dis Mem Ber and Other Stories of Mystery and Suspense is a collection of seven horror short stories, none of which are especially good. 

The title story is interesting in a morbid way - it’s about a pedo killer, narrated by a little girl who sorta knew him. The dark details of the murders grabs your attention for its shock value but it’s not at all a great story. The Crawl Space is probably my favourite of the bunch - Oates doing her own modern version of Poe’s Cask of Amontillado (also one of my favourite Poe stories). 

The rest of the book is total crap. Heartbreak is a dull story about a teenage girl who feels left out and does something crazy; I didn’t get The Situations at all - something about an evil father who drowns kittens and some stranger in a town somewhere?! Welcome to Friendly Skies! is a bad David Sedaris-wannabe story with Oates proving comedy is beyond her abilities. 

Unfortunately the two longest stories are also the worst. The Drowned Girl is about a student who’s obsessed with the corpse of another girl student who died in a water tank at the top of a university building. It reminded me of the real life case of Elisa Lam which I guess is what inspired this story. Oates doesn’t really do much with the material though, just kinda makes her already-tense protagonist become more unhinged until the terribly weak ending. 

Great Blue Heron features another unstable female narrator. A widow deals with her husband’s death while being badgered by her obnoxious brother-in-law. It goes for a magical realist vague finale that I didn’t care about one bit because everything preceding it sucked. 

Elements here and there might work in the hands of a better horror writer but Oates’ execution is very lacking, particularly the characters’ voices which are uniformly timid and unimpressive. In trying to be more acceptably “literary”, her style dilutes the subject matter’s impact. I won’t remember any of these stories within the year and all I’ve taken away from this book is the knowledge that Joyce Carol Oates isn’t for me! Dis Mem Ber and Other Stories of Mystery and Suspense is definitely not recommended - check out Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery and Other Stories for quality horror shorts instead.

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