Select one of the keywords
The Tattooed Girl    by Joyce Carol Oates order for
Tattooed Girl
by Joyce Carol Oates
Order:  USA  Can
Ecco, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Softcover

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Shannon Bigham

People take a second glance at Alma Busch when they see her on the street. She has a heavy pelt of long, ash blond hair that hangs limply well past her shoulders. She is a fleshy, big-breasted woman in her late twenties with doughy white skin. What makes Alma even more noticeable are the bizarre, crudely drawn tattoos that cover her body (most people only see those covering her neck, arms, hands and a purplish tattoo on her face that looks like a disfiguring birthmark). Needless to say, Alma does not readily fit in with most groups of people. Her hard childhood has scarred her in a similar fashion to the tattoos on her body (never mind that Alma does not even recall how she got the tattoos).

The other major character in this novel is thirty-eight year old, reclusive, eccentric writer Joshua Siegel. Joshua's life has been vastly different from Alma's. Equipped with a family trust fund, Joshua resides alone in a mansion and attempts literary pursuits. While Joshua is celebrated for a novel titled 'The Shadows', he has failed to come up with a second book. Becoming frustrated and lately not feeling well, Joshua determines that he must hire an assistant to work for him in his home. He needs to get organized and while he loathes admitting it to himself, his health is deteriorating from some type of nerve ailment that his neurologist is struggling to diagnose. Joshua needs an assistant nearby in case he becomes incapacitated.

In a twist of fate, Joshua hires Alma from a chance meeting in a local shop and the story truly begins. While Joshua is almost always respectful and kind to Alma while she is in his employ, Alma harbors a secret and deep-seated hatred which she focuses on Joshua in a dark, yet passive manner. While Joshua relies on Alma and does not know what he will do without her as his health problems increase, Alma has other plans. She is a confused, angry young woman and she has never fit in anywhere. She feels conflicted by Joshua's generosity towards her and she cannot understand it. It is simpler to reject his assurances and companionship.

The Tattooed Girl is an engrossing read, with richly drawn characters. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it's not the cliché novel of writer and assistant falling in love. In fact, the plot turned in ways that I did not expect, with a taut, suspenseful tone throughout. Joshua's sister Jet and Alma's boyfriend Dmitri add depth and interesting subplots to the story. While the ending is abrupt (and may leave readers wanting more), fans of literary fiction will certainly enjoy The Tattooed Girl.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Contemporary books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews