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The Female of the Species: Tales of Mystery and Suspense Paperback – Jan 15 2007

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From Publishers Weekly

As evidenced in this collection of nine stories, Oates's imagination is still fertile, feverish and macabre. These females are killers, either by their own hands or through manipulation. To be sure, they have provocation: abandonment, betrayal, abuse, the loss of reason to passion or obsession. In "Hunger," the longest and best of the stories, a rich but neglected corporate wife succumbs to a sexual obsession that ends in murder. Suspenseful and Lolita-like, "Doll: A Romance of the Mississippi," seduces with its lurid concept of a young prostitute who is pimped by her father and degenerates into a homicidal psychopath. Another father tries futilely to protect his frantic daughter from her cruel husband in the haunting "So Help Me God." It seems unlikely, however, that the six-year-old girl in "The Banshee" would be able to recognize the hors d'oeuvres at her mother's party as "Russian caviar [and]... smoked salmon on Swedish crackers," and such details undermine plausibility. Set against the familiar territory of upstate New York towns, but also Manhattan's Park Avenue, rich enclaves on Cape Cod and a hospital ward, these are powerful stories, but best read in small doses. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

For four decades, Oates has rendered razor-sharp tales of marginalized lives. This latest collection, showcasing her work in crime--related stories (several of which have landed in best-of-the-year anthologies), is no exception. From adulterers to murderers, the women portrayed in these pages possess a killer combination of venom and vice. In "The Haunting," a mother reinvents herself after her husband's suspicious death. Mysterious late-night phone calls prompt an unhappy young wife to seek vengeance on her volatile mate in "So Help Me God." But not all of Oates' feral females are focused on men. In "Madison at Guignol," a pack of vindictive salesgirls gives a haughty fashionista a deadly dressing-down in a dark, delirious tale that will make even casual shoppers shiver. The young also succumb to sinister behaviors. In "The Banshee," a precocious six-year-old girl uses her baby brother as bait to gain the attention of a neglectful mother. Oates' prose is luminous, but some readers might find her femmes a bit too fatale. Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 17 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
"Mommy held us all night long." Jan. 6 2006
By Luan Gaines - Published on
Format: Hardcover
One should never assume that the fairer sex is the weaker and in this collection of stories, the prodigious Oates reveals the dark side of a woman's psyche, whether inspired by childhood abandonment or a married woman's rapidly escalating sexual obsession. Flying to the very edge of reason, each of these stories plunges into the darker waters of female behavior, some macabre, some grotesque, others giving voice to the secret impulses that drive women to extremes, to the edge of reason, innocent children taxed beyond the fragile structures of their emotional boundaries.

In the first tale, "So Help Me God", a young woman falls in love with a bad boy cop, caught in a web of abuse with the husband she met at fourteen and married at eighteen. The exhilarating sexual energy of their early encounters feels far more dangerous as he toys with her dependency, obsession turning to terror. In "Doll, A Romance of the Mississippi", eerily reminiscent and a cross between "Baby Doll" and Lolita, a young girl travels the Midwest with her (step)father, preying on the sexual fantasies of vulnerable paying customers, frequently betrayed by her own twisted demons, home-schooled from the trunk of their 1953 Buick La Salle. "Madison at Guignol" speaks to a woman's quest for perfection: "But it is my soul I seek continuously, where I can and however." This fashion maven is a victim of her own pathetic hubris, caught in a horror beyond her ability to comprehend.

A personal favorite is "Hunger", one of the longer pieces in The Female of the Species. Kristine, the second wife of a wealthy man, begins a casual dalliance with an enigmatic, exotic stranger, Jean-Claude, a new arrival in the elite oceanside community where she is vacationing with her small daughter. In the accepting society of this well-heeled colony, Kristine opens a door she is unable to close, her impulsive romance imbued with the menace of incipient violence, helpless against her consuming passion for the forbidden, en route to a stunning and elaborate betrayal. There are more: "The Banshee"; "The Haunting"; "Tell Me You Forgive Me?"; "The Angel of Death" and "The Angel of Mercy", each with a uniquely bizarre perspective. This collection is fascinating and unsettling, written in the evocative prose that is natural to this author, with random images of threat and menace, birds screeching through the sky, teeming hordes of feral cats, bucolic scenes threaded with nature's unpredictability, the power of one character's preoccupation with another, stalking death, all the ingredients to send a chill up your spine in the dark of the night. Luan Gaines/ 2006.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Chilling and insightful May 17 2006
By M. Galishoff - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Scripture says that the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons. The meaning of this verse is commonly taken to imply the consequences of sinful parenting. For Oates, the sins of the parents are visited on the daughters. Here is an outstanding collection of women and girls of varying ages and circumstances who have in common both a horrible past or current hurt/injury by the one who they should trust the most and the horrible psychological and often sociopathic, violent and self-destructive effects of these hurts. Nabokov explores these themes. What makes Oates' contribution worthwhile is the brevity of the genre and glimpse into each life leaving you wanting to know more. In a sense, we often come across people with such backgrounds and who are severely disturbed as they briefly cross our paths. It is all too common and real. A book worth reading and thinking about.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Tales of MURDER and other Nastiness Jan. 21 2006
By Jon Linden - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This latest book of short stories by Joyce is quite good. In this book, she abandons her usual esoteric vocabulary for a "plain language" writing style. Interestingly, while the stories are very good, they are not her best. Her style is a little prosaic in comparison to most of her other works. And; her plots and especially the endings lack a certain degree of poignancy that so characterizes most of her work.

On the positive side, she has not lost her touch for incredible character development. While most of the stories involve murder, they also touch on other highly interesting and sometimes perverse topical areas. Her story "Doll" is truly fascinating as she centers on a kiddie prostitution scheme which is run by the girls father. He had developed a concept that is `look, don't touch.' The clients get to have an hour with Doll, a radiant girl of about 13 who undresses for them and poses, talks and watches TV, while the "John" gets excited.

Her story "Angel of Wrath" is truly an inside look at a very strange and psychopathic boy how is in love with a woman he does not know. Yet still, he believes he has a connection to her. And in fact, before the story is over, he has a very clear connection to her.

It is interestingly noticeable that her longer stories are better than her short ones in this book. With more words, she can be more precise about the nature of the sociopathic behaviors she is describing. Some of the shorter stories are lacking in the development, and also lacking in the ending. They do not give you the typical feeling that her stories usually do. She seems to be fond in this book, of leaving as much up to the imagination of the reader as possible. In some cases, too much to the reader.

Nonetheless, this book is highly recommended as a very fine use of plain language to tell tales of serious psychosis and other maladies. It is surely recommended to all Joyce Carol Oates readers, and also all readers who are interested in seeing society from the inside out. The book is well worth the time it takes to read it.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Stories about Murderous Women Jan. 8 2006
By Debbie Lee Wesselmann - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Joyce Carol Oates, a writer long fascinated with the macabre, has compiled a solid collection of tales of suspense and violence. These nine stories portray women at their most murderous, motivated by passion, desperation, righteousness, or just plain nastiness.

One of the most chilling tales is "Doll: A Romance of the Mississippi," a story about perpetually eleven-year old Doll, a shrewd child prostitute prone to "mean moods." Oates plunges into the psyches of both Doll and her (step)father Ira, exposing the deranged and macabre relationship between the two: what keeps them together and what divides them. "Hunger" is equally memorable, although less for its actual violence than for the way Oates develops the story of a woman hungry for passion. Kristine is vacationing on Cape Cod with her six year old daughter when she meets a mysterious stranger on the beach. When the stranger begins to show up at the upscale parties thrown in Kristine's circle, Kristine finds herself driven to possess him. But her actions have repercussions she does not expect. "The Haunting" focuses on the horrifying hallucinations (or are they?) of a girl whose mother is said to have burned her father alive. The more experimental "Angel of Mercy" entwines the lives of a long-dead, infamous nurse with the youngest nurse of the ward nicknamed "the City of the Damned." "So Help Me God," the story of a woman prompted to take action against her controlling husband after receiving a series of anonymous calls, is less successful, primarily because the motivation Oates provides is more overlaid than deep-seated in the protagonist.

Each story is this collection varies enough from the others to keep the reader's attention through one sitting or many. While Oates's characters might not always seem to be capable of the atrocities they commit, the suspense she builds holds everything together. The most engrossing stories have the momentum of inevitability, where both the reader and the characters know where events are heading but from which neither can tear herself away. -- Debbie Lee Wesselmann
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Splendid Femme Fatale Tales from Oates April 15 2006
By John Kwok - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I certainly beg to differ with some of the disappointing customer reviews I have read here for Joyce Carol Oates's latest short story collection, "The Female of the Species". While Oates is not my favorite writer, I have yet to be disappointed with any of her work; whether these are short stories, novellas or novels demonstrate her considerable range and artistic abilities as a writer of superb fictional prose. In her latest collection, Oates certainly doesn't disappoint with her richly textured, stylish prose offering tales of women and children who are forced to commit acts most foul. My own favorite stories are "So Help Me God", "Madison at Guignol", and "Hunger", but the others are well worth reading too. "So Help Me God" chronicles the loneliness of a young wife who takes matters into her own hands when she finally deals with her older, violent husband, after being taunted by an unknown obsessive caller who knows intimate details about her life. "Madison at Guignol" is Oates at her stylishly wicked best, as a young fashionista gets her just desserts at the hands of some salesgirls in an opulent Madison Avenue store. "Hunger" describes a married woman's obsession with a young, handsome French-speaking visitor, who wins not only her heart, but also her young daughter's. Without question, Oates is still at the height of her creative powers with these elegant tales of diabolical mischief and mayhem; these are tales worth reading, but in small doses - as an editorial reviewer noted - to enjoy not only her elegant prose but also her splendid plotting.