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The Female of the Species    by Joyce Carol Oates order for
Female of the Species
by Joyce Carol Oates
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2006 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Joyce Carol Oates, the tireless wizard of innovative short fiction, has done it again! Another collection of wickedly provocative tales from one of the most prolific and most accomplished American writers is now available to mesmerize and unsettle readers. Nine strange and disturbing stories - each previously published in journals and magazines during the past five years - are constructed around a single theme: Why is the female of the species - whether she is a six-year old girl or an aging mother - more deadly than the male?

A fashion obsessed woman in 'Madison at Guignol,' always looking for that look to just die for finally goes too far. 'So Help Me God' shows what an unhappily married woman is ultimately likely to do when she receives one too many anonymous phone calls in the middle of the night.

In 'Angel of Mercy,' a compassionate nurse at a hospital ward for terminally ill patients has found a deceptively simple way to mitigate the malignant suffering which surrounds her. And a neglected woman's obsessive fantasies turn into the worst possible mistake in 'Hunger.'

Women of different generations who are haunted by terrifying passions and tragic violence in 'Tell Me You Forgive Me' reach out across half a century for absolution. In 'The Banshee,' sibling jealousy turns into a deadly attention-getting game for a 'spoiled little girl' who is 'always sulking.' And in 'The Haunting,' a small girl learns about the terror of 'trapped creatures who have suffered and died' and who wait for her in hell.

'Angel of Wrath' features a disturbed young man who insists he is 'one who respects and protects women'; but, if something should go wrong, he insists, it would not be his fault (which seems to work for him quite nicely until he finally meets his match). In 'Doll: A Romance of the Mississippi,' an eleven year old girl - precocious and resourceful - finally finds a murderous way of avoiding the ways in which her father has made her life more than a little unusual.

There is little that can be said here about Joyce Carol Oates that hasn't already been said by scores of reviewers and critics in the last forty years. As novelist, short story writer, poet, nonfiction writer, and literary critic, Ms. Oates has established herself as one of the giants of American literature, and - most incredibly - she has published at least one volume in every year since 1965! Moreover, it seems as if another short work by Ms. Oates appears monthly in one venue or another. Yet what is most remarkable is not the quantity of the output. The consistently high quality and the constantly innovative energy in each new work are always impressive. The Female of the Species is no exception to this rule: The stories are extraordinary and disquieting. Don't miss them!

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