March 26th, 2008

there!, Hello

"In the Oceania wing of the Louvre I saw it: the totem."

There's a lesson I should really learn: Don't pick up another book when you're trying to read things for a review site (like Horror Reader). Not on a lark. Not even for first line tests. Particularly not by an author you KNOW is excellent. Not even if the book is short.




Unless you want to risk getting sucked in.

A lesson I should probably learn, yes. I feel I never will...

Today's subject line is the first line from the next book on my list of 2008 readings:

24) Beasts by Joyce Carol Oates (2003, Carol and Graf, 138 pages).
This novella opens in 2001, with protagonist Gillian Brauer discovering a piece of totemic artwork in Paris. The discovery triggers memories of tumultuous events from her college years, some 26 years before. As a twenty year old student, Gillian was in love... With poetry and particularly with her charismatic poetry workshop professor. That he was married to an eccentric sculptress made no difference, she (like many in the all girls Catamount College, in the Berkshire Mountains) was deeply infatuated with him. Her story begins as romantic, schoolgirl dream, but slowly transforms into something much more nightmarish... Fires are burning, both literally and figuratively in this work: acts of arson appear opposite aroused passions, and as Gillian's (and the other members of her poetry workshop) infatuations deepen into something much darker, much more primal, the question soon becomes just how many will end up consumed?

Joyce Carol Oates possesses a beautiful ear for language, a talent for creating absorbing and illuminating psychological landscapes for her rich, quirky characters, and an excellent skill at interweaving the stuff of the gothic with more modern narrative sensibilities. Beasts demonstrates her talents in this slender, engaging story. It is powerful without resorting to melodrama, insightful and elucidating without navel gazing. In short, Beasts is fiction of the highest caliber, which I am already longing to revisit...

Next up: The book I was originally reading for Horror Reader (but which somehow ended up in another room, when Beasts was near to hand): Devil's Cape from first time author Rob Rogers.