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I Am No One You Know: Stories    by Joyce Carol Oates Amazon.com order for
I Am No One You Know
by Joyce Carol Oates
Order:  USA  Can
Perennial, 2005 (2004)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Shannon Bigham

Oates continues to set herself apart from others in the literary fiction genre with her compilation of nineteen rather startling short stories. Typical of Oates' fiction in the past, these previously published stories focus on the varied, and at times seemingly bizarre, yet also somehow normal, lives of Americans. Although I tend to prefer full-length novels to short stories, I am a fan of Oates' writing (having most recently enjoyed The Falls) and therefore was interested in I Am No One You Know.

In The Girl With The Blackened Eye, selected for The Best American Mystery Stories 2001, a thirteen-year-old girl manages to survive abduction by a serial killer, through sheer courage and her desire to survive. In The Instructor, a young professor becomes the obsession of one of her students, a man who sat on death row for eight years before having his conviction overturned and enrolling in night college. The line between child abuse and parental desperation is explored in Jorie (& Jamie): A Deposition, where a mother is jailed for locking her mentally disturbed daughter, Jorie, in their basement for extended periods of time - the story is told via the deposition of Jamie, Jorie's twin sister. In Aiding and Abetting, a husband feels vaguely threatened and perturbed by his brother-in-law's calls during the family dinner hour each night, and a confrontational phone conversation between the two blooms into tragedy.

I thoroughly enjoyed these stories, which felt like snapshots of the lives of American men, women and children, as their varied circumstances, personalities, and fates shaped into nineteen separate stories. (At times, I was left wanting more of a conclusion but I expect that is due to my preference for full-length novels.) Oates has a unique, powerful writing style with an undercurrent of vibrant energy. She has an expert ability to create unflinching, vibrant characters some of whom are normal and others far from normal - and to show what happens when their lives intersect. I highly recommend this compilation to fans of Oates, as wells as those who enjoy short stories and literary fiction.

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