The Female of the Species by Joyce Carol Oates

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Reading this book is like having a nightmare. No, actually it’s like having nine separate nightmares.

That’s not criticism, by the way. This was the only way I could think of to describe these short stories. It says right in the title that these are “tales of mystery and suspense”, and believe me, when Joyce Carol Oates tells you you’re going to read a book of suspenseful mystery stories, she is not kidding around. Each story in this book focuses on a woman doing something horrible, violent, or just plain gruesome. I’d like to describe these activities a little more, but that would ruin most of the endings.

And each story is like a nightmare. You don’t always know exactly what’s going on, viewpoint and setting change abruptly, and at the end you surface from the story, gasping for breath, unable to remember exact details because you went through the story so fast because you had to know how it ended. The only thing that really sticks with you are bits of horrible imagery that your mind conjured up without your permission that are nearly impossible to forget. And you remember the pure suspense and terror that comes every time, no matter which story you’re reading.

“Except for the rabbits in the cellar, nobody knows me here.
In their ugly rusted old cages in the cellar where Mommy says we must not go. There is nothing in the cellar Mommy says. Stay out of that filthy place. But in the night through the walls I can hear the rabbits’ cries. It starts as whimpering at first, like the cooing and fretting of pigeons, then it gets louder. If I put my pillow over my head, still I hear them. I am meant to hear them. My heart beats so hard that it hurts. In their cages the rabbits are pleading, Help us! Let us out! We don’t want to die.”

Verdict: Five out of five stars

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