Joyce Carol Oates has compiled a collection of 14 of her short stories which had been published previously in distinguished periodicals such as The New Yorker, Harper’s, Yale Review, American Short Fiction, and others. Her fans will be happy to have at their fingertips this collection of Oates’ most bizarre stories. Her imagination is only exceeded by her boldness in presenting the strange plots and even stranger characters that we meet within the covers of this recent offering.
Oates’ husband, Raymond Smith, to whom she was married for 47 years, died a year prior to the publication of Dear Husband in 2009. The title of the book does not relate to her late husband but is taken from the last story in this collection which is named Dear Husband. She did honor Raymond Smith in 2011 when “A Widow’s Story: A Memoir” was published.
The short story Dear Husband was not the strangest selection in this compilation, but it was close to it. An abused wife who could not keep up with her housework and with taking care of her three children decided to take the only way out by drowning each of her children in the bathtub and overdosing on some OxyContin tablets. While she was waiting for the pills to take effect, she left a letter to her “dear husband.”
My favorite story was entitled Mistrial. Again, an older single woman, the major caretaker of her mother, was verbally abused by her brother but gained some relief when she was called to jury duty in a murder trial. She disagreed with the guilty verdict of the 11 other jurors, thus causing a mistrial. She caught the eye of the accused man during the trial and went so far as to visit his mother, both actions being forbidden by law to jurors. When she visited their home after the defendant was freed, she casually mentioned her brother’s cruelty. We are all left to wonder when the man stated in the last sentence of the story “Tell me about your brother, ma’am.”
How does Joyce Carol Oates think up such eerie plots and characters? She is a master of the art. Stories about spilled scalding water, or boys in a school bus pointing a gun at the driver of a car behind the bus, or two sisters who know deep down that their aged father was the killer in an unsolved double homicide when he was a young man. And what about Penelope whose new boyfriend Glenn asked her to his home to meet his family – his father and four brothers, all of whom looked uncannily alike. Glenn strangely had never mentioned his mother to her, and there was no mother in evidence when Penelope visited. Imagine her horror when Glenn’s brother Mark revealed to her that all of the brothers had been cloned from their father Doug. How bizarre is that?
If you are in the mood for thrills, suspense, shock, terror, even revulsion, get your copy of “Dear Husband” and you will wonder along with all Joyce Carol Oates’ fans how she comes up with such astonishing ideas, each one more startling than the next.
Dear Husband by Joyce Carol Oates (2009)