Faithless: Tales of Transgression
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: Ecco Press
Year: 2001
Pages: 352

In this collection of twenty-one unforgettable stories, Joyce Carol Oates explores the mysterious private lives of men and women with vivid, unsparing precision and sympathy. By turns interlocutor and interpreter, magician and realist, she dissects the psyches of ordinary people and their potential for good and evil with chilling understatement and lasting power.

In “Faithless,” two adult sisters recall their mother’s disappearance when they were children. In “Ugly,” a bitterly angry young woman defines herself as ugly as a way of making herself invulnerable to hurt and in so doing hurts others. In “Lover,” a beautiful young woman locked into an obsessive love affair seeks her revenge in a bizarre, violent manner. In “Gunlove,” a woman in thrall to a powerful erotic fetishism recounts in brief, deadpan vignettes a history of her relations with firearms.

Intense and provocative, Faithless is a startling look into the heart of contemporary America from the modern master of the short story.


Contents

PART ONE

  • Au Sable
  • Ugly
  • Lover
  • Summer Sweat
  • Questions
  • Physical
  • Gunlove

PART TWO

  • Faithless
  • The Scarf
  • What Then, My Life?
  • Secret, Silent

PART THREE

  • A Manhattan Romance
  • Murder-Two
  • The Vigil
  • We Were Worried About You
  • The Stalker
  • The Vampire
  • Tusk
  • The High School Sweetheart: A Mystery
  • Deathwatch
  • In *COPLAND*

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Epigraph

When one does not love too much, one does not love enough.
—Pascal


Awards

  • Best American Mystery Stories, 2002: “High School Sweetheart”
  • Best American Mystery Stories, 1999: “Nowhere”
  • Best American Mystery Stories, 1998: “Faithless”
  • Pushcart Prize, XXIII: “Faithless”
  • New York Times Notable Books of the Year

Excerpt

From “Gunlove

LUCK RUNS in our family, Dad used to say. Maybe he was being ironic but it’s a fact, it does. Like when Mother was knocked down, robbed, and raped in the ass, she wasn’t murdered, too. See?

WHAT HAPPENED WAS: Mother was living in a two-bedroom apartment on East 77th Street, near Madison, in a building you’d think, she said, would be safe, except nowhere’s safe in Manhattan any longer, returning from a performance of Miss Saigon (in which she was an investor) and absolutely not drunk (though she’d had a few drinks just possibly at Joe Allen’s with friends), alone in the elevator to the ninth floor and alone (she swore!) in the hall, opening her door with her key and suddenly she’s hit on the back of the head, hard as a sledgehammer, a man’s fists, she’s knocked inside, flat on her face, too panicked to scream, or hasn’t the breath, he’s pounding her on the back with his fists, grunting and cursing her, bangs her head against the floor, she’s half-unconscious and he dumps the contents of her purse onto her back, back of her mink coat, paws through them to take what’s valuable, unfortunately there’s Mother’s “snubbie” with the ivory handle, so her assailant presses the barrel of the little gun against the base of her skull, he’s straddling her, panting and sweating, a dark oily smell she will swear, calls her bitch and cunt, a black accent, from the Islands she will swear, and he hikes up her skirt and what’s called “sodomizes” her and he beats her unconscious with the gun fractur­ing her skull and tearing the scalp so she’ll be found barely breathing in a pool of blood, but at least alive. She would beg my brother and me not to tell our father. Dad said, “What’s she expect? Living alone.”


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Image: “My Privacy” by Nick Kenrick


 

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