Today’s Booking Through Thursday question seems simple on the surface, but is actually much tougher for me to answer than I originally thought it would be:
What, in your opinion, is the best book that you haven’t liked?
I know a lot of folks have very strong opinions on Joyce Carol Oates — and I’m no exception. When I picked up her short novella Beasts, I thought perhaps it would be along the same lines of her carefully-crafted novel Broke Heart Blues, a book which stands out in my mind as exceptionally well-written and developed in terms of plot, characterization and scenery.
I was totally immersed in that story — I was sucked into that story. And since I was running through a phase in college where I had very little time to read anything that wasn’t “required” for class, Beasts was short and looked intriguing. I picked it up and finished it in a few days.
Since I’m a little fuzzy on the actual plotline of the story (hey, it’s been a few years!) I’m going to cheat my way out of a synopsis by providing you the Library Journal version from Amazon:
“In her new novella, the prolific Oates paints a riveting picture of a time when drugs were viewed with a more tolerant eye and sexual promiscuity was the order of the day. The story revolves around a group of college girls in the 1970s and their obsessive preoccupation with charismatic anti-establishment English professor Andre Harrow and his artist wife, Dorcas. The two stand out in their small New England college town, and they revel in their difference, which draws Andre’s female students to him like bees to honey. A talented and infatuated junior, Gillian is relegated to the shadows until Andre picks her out as one of his “special” girls. What follows is a disturbing look at the power of obsession and the abuse of trust. The story, though implausible in today’s world, is quite believable in its 1970s setting. It’s a quick read at 128 pages but suspenseful and satisfying to the end, with Oates once again displaying her amazing flair for complex and slightly bizarre characters. Recommended for all fiction collections.
Caroline Mann, Univ. of Portland Lib., OR
While the story was engrossing and the book was certainly intricately woven together, I found the book to be just as disturbing as the reviews suggest. As Gillian becomes more and more entrenched in this “romance” with her professor and an illicit affair is ignited, I found myself wanting to back away from the book, throw on a Care Bears DVD and sit with a fluffy pillow and some cotton candy, listening to the Spice Girls and Hanson on a sunny afternoon!
Too dark, too much and too scary — Beasts highlights everything wrong, vulnerable and viral about human nature. As I read for escape and enjoyment, I don’t want to be reminded about the seedy, desperate side of humanity — the side that makes us do crazy, horrible things out of longing (for what? for whom? who knows). Not my cup of tea!