In The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror, Joyce Carol Oates evokes the “fascination of the abomination” that is at the core of the most profound, the most unsettling, and the most memorable of dark mystery fiction.
By Joyce Carol Oates
A collection of six psychologically daring, exquisitely suspenseful stories from the masterful Joyce Carol Oates
From one of our most important contemporary writers, The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror is a bold, haunting collection of six stories.
In the title story, a young boy becomes obsessed with his cousin’s doll after she tragically passes away from leukemia. As he grows older, he begins to collect “found dolls” from the surrounding neighborhoods and stores his treasures in the abandoned carriage house on his family’s estate. But just what kind of dolls are they? In “Gun Accident,” a teenage girl is thrilled when her favorite teacher asks her to house-sit the elegant old Colonial she shares with her husband. But an intruder forces his way into the house while the girl is there, changing the fate of more than one life forever. “Equatorial” shifts setting to the exotic Galapagos, where an affluent American wife experiences disorienting assaults upon her sense of who her charismatic husband really is, and what his plans may be for her. The book closes with a chilling biblio-mystery, about the owner of a middling chain of mystery bookstores who employs rather unorthodox methods for expanding his little empire. The owner’s plan for his latest takeover—of a rare bookstore in scenic New Hampshire—derails into a game of verbal cat-and-mouse that threatens to have more than just business consequences.
In The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror, Joyce Carol Oates evokes “the fascination of the abomination” that is at the core of the most profound, the most unsettling, and the most memorable of dark mystery fiction.
When I was five years old, Baby Emily disappeared from my room.
I was so surprised! I looked under the bed and in the closet and in each of my bureau drawers and then I looked in all these places again as well as beneath the covers at the foot of the bed but Baby Emily was gone.
I ran to my mother, crying. I asked my mother where Baby Emily was. My mother told me that my father “didn’t think it was a good idea” for me to be playing with a doll at my age. Dolls are for girls, she said. Not boys. “Daddy just thought it might be better to take the doll away before you got ‘too attached’ . . .” Guiltily my mother spoke, and there was softness in her voice, but nothing I said could change her mind, no matter how I cried, or how angry I became, slapping and kicking at her and saying how I hated her, my mother did not change her mind because my father would not allow it. “He said he’d ‘indulged’ you long enough. And he blames me.”
In place of Baby Emily who was so sweet and placid and smelled of foam-rubber, my father had instructed my mother to buy me an “action toy”—one of the new-model expensive ones—a U.S. Navy SEAL robot-soldier that came fully armed, and could move forward across the room, empowered by a battery.
I would never forgive either of them, I thought. But particularly, I would never forgive him.
Oates has a masterful way of leading us through the consciousness of the troubled individuals at the center of these stories so that heartfelt sympathy is gradually replaced by guarded unease and, eventually, by a terrifying repulsion.
Oates’s brand of horror has never required the invocation of other worlds: This world is terrible enough for her. Everything she writes, in whatever genre, has an air of dread, because she deals in vulnerabilities and inevitabilities …. A sense of helplessness is the essence of horror, and Oates conveys that feeling as well as any writer around, whether the powerlessness in question is that of a victim or, as in the title story of “The Doll-Master,” that of someone who is unable to stop doing harm to others: Obsession can be a kind of vulnerability, too.
Leave a Reply