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Cover art for Beasts

Beasts

Written by Joyce Carol Oates
Fiction

Again, here I am recommending another book by Joyce Carol Oates; I find her work so compelling. This is a very short novella. The action is presented to us as a memory from the present day. We are transported to a small, elite college for women where Professor Andre Harrow teaches an exclusive circle of young artistic women. He and his wife Dorcas, a successful sculptress of totemic, highly sexualized primitive human forms(imagine Venus of Willendorf), all ages and all sizes. Andre and Dorcas are overwrought and powerful creatures. She wears makeup that is indicative of the masks used in Japanese theater, he projects an imperious and demanding personality. They choose young girls to be "interns" for a period of time with the caveat that they must not tell anyone or they will lose this coveted position. At the same time mysterious fires are being set around campus by an unknown person. We watch as one by one the most vulnerable of the young women begins to shred and fall apart without any visible cause. The protagonist, Gillian, is chosen as an intern and we discover what being the chosen one involves.

I read this book in one sitting, it is impossible to put down, but I love JCO's writing. What I saw in this novella was her theme of parental power and the need for the self to disengage. So much has been packed into this small, dense story... give it a read! You won't be disappointed. Not an easy story but a meaty one...

Recommended by Suzi

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