The blood jet is poetry—these words of Sylvia Plath have reverberated through my experience of reading and rereading the fifteen stories of Prison Noir.

Prison Noir
Editor: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: Akashic Books
Year: 2014
Pages: 254

In this case the blood jet is prose, though sometimes poetic prose; if we go a little deeper, in some chilling instances, the blood jet is exactly that: blood.

For these stories are not “literary” exercises—though some are exceptionally well-written by any formalist standards, and artfully structured as narratives; with a single exception the stories are stark, somber, emotionally driven cris de coeur . . . We may feel revulsion for some of the acts described in these stories, but we are likely to feel a startled, even stunned sympathy for the perpetrators. And in several stories, including even murderers’ confessions, we are likely to feel a profound and unsettling identification…

There is no need for fantasy-horror in a place in which matter-of-fact horror is the norm, and mental illness is epidemic. Vividly rendered realism is the predominant literary strategy, as in a riveting documentary film.

—Joyce Carol Oates, from the introduction


Contents

Introduction by Joyce Carol Oates
Part I: Ghosts in the Machine

  • “Shuffle” by Christopher M. Stephen (Federal Correctional Institution, Oxford, Wisconsin)
  • “I Saw an Angel” by Sin Soracco (California Institution for Women, Corona, California)
  • “Bardos” by Scott Gutches (Fremont Correctional Facility, Cañon City, Colorado)
  • “Trap” by Eric Boyd (Allegheny County Jail, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
  • “A Message in the Breath of Allah” by Ali F. Sareini (Coldwater Correctional Facility, Coldwater, Michigan)

Part II: Caged Birds Sing

  • “Tune-Up by Stephen Geez (Ryan Correctional Facility, Detroit, Michigan)
  • “Foxhole” by B.M. Dolarman (Oklahoma State Penitentiary, McAlester, Oklahoma)
  • “There Will Be Seeds for Next Year” by Zeke Caligiuri (Minnesota Correctional Facility, Stillwater, Bayport, Minnesota)
  • “Immigrant Song” by Marco Verdoni (Marquette Branch Prison, Marquette, Michigan)
  • “Rat’s Ass” by Kenneth R. Brydon (San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin, California)

Part III: I Saw the Whole Thing, It Was Horrible

  • “Milk and Tea” by Linda Michelle Marquardt (Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, Ypsilanti, Michigan)
  • “Angel Eyes” by Andre White (Ionia Correctional Facility, Ionia, Michigan)
  • “How eBay Nearly Killed Gary Bridgway” by Timothy Pauley (Monroe Correctional Complex, Monroe, Washington)
  • “3 Block from Hell” by Bryan K. Palmer (Jackson State Prison, Jackson, Michigan)
  • “The Investigation” by William Van Poyck (Florida State Prison, Raiford, Florida)

About the Contributors


Interview

From “Noir Behind Bars: PW Talks with Joyce Carol Oates,” Patrick Millikin, Publishers Weekly, July 21, 2014, p. 165.

PW: If the publication of Prison Noir could accomplish one thing, what would it be?

JCO: Serious fiction always breaks down the barriers between people—allows us to see, think, and feel as others do. We learn to sympathize with others unlike ourselves. We learn to feel pity—and terror. Even to recognize hopelessness is an illuminating experience. Women in particular will be astonished at the several stories by women here, of which one is particularly terrifying—and unforgettable.

Read the full interview here.


Reviews

  • Seamus Scanlon, Library Journal, August 1, 2014, p. 92
    5 stars
    [starred review] “These are stories that resonate with authenticity and verve and pain and truth. Any collection edited by the National Book Award-winning author Oates deserves attention, but the contributors are deft and confident, and great writers without her imprimatur…. Authentic, powerful, visceral, moving, great writing.”
  • Publishers Weekly, July 7, 2014, p. 50
    4 stars
    [starred review] “Oates, a veteran instructor in prison writing programs, has assembled a remarkable anthology…”

Image: Alcatraz Prison by MacPepper


Randy Souther

I'm a Reference Librarian at the University of San Francisco's Gleeson Library, and I run the Joyce Carol Oates web site, Celestial Timepiece.

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