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Book Review: "The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror" by Joyce Carol Oates

4/5 - a perfectly good Joyce Carol Oates anthology...

By Annie KapurPublished 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 3 min read
From: Amazon

“In dreams sometimes it is like this. I am lying very still, my arms and legs are numb or paralyzed. There is a medical term—peripheral neuropathy. A tingling sensation in fingers and toes that moves upward bringing with it a loss of feeling, a spreading numbness, a kind of amnesia of the body.”

- The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror by Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is one of the great horror and thriller writers of the 20th and 21st centuries. Many have tried to emulate the style and some, like Virginia Feito with her novel Mrs March, have succeeded. With the renaissance of 'women's horror' and 'suburban horror', Joyce Carol Oates and her contemporaries have been becoming more and more important as the key writers of this era.

If you don't know what suburban horror is it is horror that is set in the quiet unassuming towns and suburbs. Normally, there is something going on behind closed doors that nobody else knows about, or there is some kind of suburban panic. Like the suburban gothic, it encompasses the terrors that you have about not really knowing who your neighbours really are and the fact that once you retire behind your front doors, there could be anything going on. From the grief of a dying relative to a trauma to a graveyard under the kitchen tiles. You have no way of knowing and so, it plays on the fears we all have of each other.

These stories are strange, weird and more than often really quite heavy. The titular story called The Doll-Master might be somewhat predictable, but it is still shocking to learn about the secret to the dolls this guy collects. Yes, it is about a young man who collects 'foundling' dolls which he apparently steals from other homes. He stores them away and is scared to death that someone might discover them. As this is going on, his relationship with his mother is often rocky. So, you can tell we have a real Norman Bates on our hands. However, what is going on in his head is slightly worse - reality has become a delusion.

From: Amazon

I have to say that some of the stories were not as strong, stories like Soldier. It is about a man who has to go on to a second trial after his first was ruled a mistrial. His trial is for shooting a young Black man after he states that he was attacked by five of them. The vast majority of the public do not believe him and there are holes in his story. But, I have to say that I do not quite believe him either. It is narrated in first person and yet, you do not feel like the character has much personality. He tells us the story about his uncle's gun which is the one he used to shoot the boy. As we move through the story though, we learn about the devisive nature that this case brings with its judgements: is it ever a good idea to kill someone in self-defense?

The one thing wrong with this story is that barely anything happened in a story where a lot could have happened. We know very little about the character except for what is repeated ad nauseam to us: he is not allowed to open his mail, look at his emails etc. etc. It becomes a very abanl story that by about five or six pages in, the reader stops caring about because the narrator themselves is not a very interesting, intriguing or even remotely passionate person. The writing of this story is not quite the plain everyday that Joyce Carol Oates is more famous for, but more boring and uneventful instead. This is basically the only fault of the whole anthology.

All the other stories may not have been the best I have read by Joyce Carol Oates, but they are pretty good with the titular story being quite possibly the best out of them all. I would recommend this to people who have not read the author before and are just starting off. It is a short and sweet anthology that displays some good work.


About the Creator

Annie Kapur

200K+ Reads on Vocal.

English Lecturer

🎓Literature & Writing (B.A)

🎓Film & Writing (M.A)

🎓Secondary English Education (PgDipEd) (QTS)

📍Birmingham, UK

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