Dear Husband: Stories
Joyce Carol Oates, . . Ecco, $24.95 (326pp) ISBN 978-0-06-170431-4
The family ties that bind (and choke) are the overarching theme of Oates's grim but incisive collection. The title story takes the form of a rambling letter from an Andrea Yates–like mother after her infanticide is completed, detailing her belief that God has instructed her to drown her five little children who have “not turned out right.” “A Princeton Idyll” gives us a series of letters between a chipper children's author, granddaughter of a famous physicist, now deceased, and his sometimes sentimental, sometimes-bitter former maid; the result, in true Oatesian fashion, is dark family secrets and a good deal of denial. In “Vigilante” a son, struggling with his recovery from substance abuse, helps his unknowing mom by exacting revenge on his estranged dad. “Special” is told from the perspective of an elementary-school girl who moves toward desperate action watching her autistic older sister strain her parents' marriage and, worse, garner all their attention. Throughout the collection, Oates seamlessly enters the minds of disparate characters to find both the exalted and depraved aspects of real American families.
Reviewed on: 10/13/2008