“Feral” ; or, scared out of my wits yet again by Joyce Carol Oates!

September 28, 2007 at 10:30 am (books, Short stories)

medium_oates.jpg “Feral” appears in Joyce Carol Oates’s new collection of stories, The Museum of Dr. Moses. In its power to disturb, it is on a par with “Hi! How Ya Doin’! from the same book. Kate and Stephen Knight have a six-year-old son named Derek. After suffering several miscarriages, Kate had finally given birth to Derek while in her late thirties. He is an intensely cherished child, a sweet, docile boy somewhat big for his age.

Then the unthinkable happens – or, nearly happens. Kate and some of her friends and their children are at the community pool when the daughter of one of them swallows rather too much water after a dive. For a few minutes, everyone’s attention, including Kate’s, is focused on this girl, who is in some distress but no real danger. Then Kate returns her gaze to the shallow end where Derek had been playing and sees that he is floating, inert, face down in the water.

Naturally, the reader thinks, Oh my God, every mother’s worst nightmare! And so it turns out to be, but not at all for the reason you think. Joyce Carol Oates has written a story that is exquisitely painful to read. I haven’t encountered fiction on the subject of parenting this unnerving since Rosemary’s Baby. In fact, now that I think about it, this tale is in some ways reminiscent of that notorious novel (and even more notorious – and terrifying – film). Many authors of horror and suspense strive so deliberately for a particular effect that their stories fall flat. This one is just the opposite: it is a small masterwork of horror and dread.

How could anything be worse than a child’s death by drowning? Read “Feral” and find out…


  1. BooksPlease said,

    I have read some Of Oates’s books and particularly liked The Falls and Middle Age, but I’m not sure I could read this book – it sound harrowing.

  2. Hooked on Books: The National Book Festival, September 29, 2007 « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] woman of letters (who has recently put the frighteners on Yours Truly with the stories “Feral” and “Hi! How Ya Doin!”) was probably the high point of our visit to this year’s […]

  3. Roberta Recommends: Best of 2007, Part One « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] The Museum of Dr. Moses, Joyce Carol Oates’s wonderfully creepy story collection; […]

  4. Books to talk about – a personal view « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] Meloy In Other Rooms, Other Wonders – Daniyal Mueenuddin Too Much Happiness – Alice Munro Museum of Dr. Moses – Joyce Carol Oates Cheating at Canasta – William Trevor Unaccustomed Earth and Interpreter of […]

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