Review: The Corn Maiden by Joyce Carol Oates

The Corn Maiden and Other NightmaresThe Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this volume on a whim and fell in love. It’s been years, well to be honest, decades since I first read Joyce Carol Oates’ stories. They were assigned in college, as I recall, and perhaps for that reason, I didn’t click with them. I was aware that her interests had become more gothic, more horrific over the years. Similarly, I realized in my middle age that it was OK to read beyond the prim and proper confines of literary fiction, that my soul was not in danger if I strayed toward more lurid tales of genre literature, that is stories where something actually happens. So I was prepped but not prepared to encounter these “nightmares.” Her language is acute, her perspective unflinching. These are stories where bad stuff happens and the narrative does not fade to black or turn away when it does. Yet not only bad things happen. I hesitate to use the belabored term “redemption” but dammit a kind of redemption occurs, for instance, after the bleak horrors of the title novella. There are touches of grace in the other tales too, sometimes very light. And let me also praise the fact that these are stories, not the easier to sell commercial novels so prevalent. The selection let me live a half dozen lives in the course of this volume, perhaps not lives I would choose for myself but then, do we always get to choose our lives? Tonight, I stopped at the library and discovered two and a half full shelves devoted to the works of Joyce Carol Oates, many of which are story collections. My new found love affair need not end soon.

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