The Female of the Species is a short story collection of mystery and suspense. In nine stories Joyce Carol Oates reveals the dark and deadly side of females: young girls, housewives and aging mothers.
The collection opens with “So Help Me God”, a story of a young woman receiving mysterious phone calls that might or might not be coming from her jealous and abusive husband. What ensues is a great example of what people are capable of when they feel suffocated and trapped.
In “Doll: A Romance of the Mississippi”, perpetual eleven-year old Doll travels from motel room to motel room with her (step)daddy to meet dubious men. It´s not the girl you should be worrying about. What happens is more or less expected by the reader but the way it is executed is deeply disturbing.
Another good story is “Angel of Wrath”, about a young man who seems to stalk a young mother. Again Oates turns the tables and makes the more unlikely character the deadly one.
The strongest short story in this collection is also the longest one. “Hunger” tells of 34-year old Kristine´s vacation with her young daughter in Cape Cod. There she meets a young man, a “wounded dancer”, who fascinates her and whom she obsesses over. Their affair will turn out to be the biggest mistake in her life. My last teaser tuesday is from this short story and captures the mood of the story perfectly.
There is always the problem with quality when it comes to collections, and this also applies to The Female of the Species. Most of the short stories are good solid work, disturbing even when predictable, and always exceptionally well-written. There were two stories which I did not enjoy (“Madison at Guignol” was too weird and gross, and I found “Angel of Mercy” a bit boring and bland), but there were also some that I found perfectly constructed, such as “Hunger”, “Tell Me You Forgive Me” and “The Haunting”. Although my least favorite story was also the last story in the collection, I still finished this book feeling awed by Oates´ talent. One has to be able to stomach a lot of violence to enjoy this book, I suppose it´s part of her charme 😉 Joyce Carol Oates takes the reader to the darkest of places but makes us enjoy the journey. Oh, and have I mentioned the amazing writing style?