As a student who didn’t really care for most of my assigned reading lists, Joyce Carol Oates became part of my pantheon of Authors I’d Willingly Read For School pretty quickly (at risk of dating myself a lot). I was introduced to her work in high school at some point through, of course, the chilling short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”
I was obsessed with that story and Oates in general for a long time, but curiously enough I never really associated her with “horror writing” until 2013’s Gothic-tinged The Accursed. And it was from that point that I discovered … wow, Joyce has a LOT of horror writing.
Oates is so prolific that they’re easy to miss, a lot is just out of stock and the rest tied up in anthologies. But my interest was piqued again when I noticed she was going to be part of Dreams From the Witch House from Dark Regions Press, so I thought it was finally time to check in to this.
Not really knowing where to start, I took a chance on the slightly older The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares. As you might guess, it’s a short story collection. I find those easier to digest before jumping into a novel (commitment, you know).
And so I began reading … and reading … shooing off other commitments and reading … did I mention reading?
Needless to say, I was drawn in pretty quickly. I would say the story that stuck with me most was “The Corn Maiden”, a tale of human sacrifice in the suburbs. This story struck a particular nerve for me as someone who grew up with a single mother in a not-so-great neighborhood. It went deeper than a “what if your child vanished” scenario, exploring every aspect of the kidnapping: a child being isolated and vulnerable to their peers, a parent restricted by societal judgment, even class privilege run amok, and addiction.
The rest of the stories are appealing in their own ways as well. “Fossil-Figures” reminded me of an episode from season 2 of Tales From the Crypt. “Helping Hands” was a bit Stephen King-ish. Not every story is perfect though, I will say “Beersheba” was a bit heavy handed even for me, and I can’t even spell subtlety.
Regardless of one or two low points, I found this a very satisfying collection and I’m quite glad I picked it up. It was a lovely introduction and made me even more excited that Oates is joining us in Lovecraft country! Pick up The Corn Maiden … here and creep yourself out.