DO WITH ME WHAT YOU WILL by Joyce Carol Oates


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Once again Miss Oates is concerned with crime and punishment, the innocent murderer and the guilty victim (the title is a cruel irony). And this time sex, marriage and the law (with its tribal ethos) share doomed connections. A cityscape of criminal acts (including possession of a quarter ounce of marijuana) surrounds the arid purity of Elena, Oates' virginal lure. Elena, as a child, was kidnapped by her father -- a man rallied from impending dissolution through an unlawful act. She is "rescued," then raised by her mother as a negotiable item. (The mother, like Loretta in Them, is a remarkable creation, who reappears throughout in glossy guises -- a nightclub hostess, a TV interviewer -- like flipped pages of those movie magazines Loretta would finger at her kitchen table). There are three men in Elena's life: a saintly youth flayed by law and society for a minor drug infraction (a cover for obliterating his anti-Establishment gestures), her husband Marvin and her lover Jack. Both are lawyers performing for the Law, but only her lover is vulnerable to its outcasts. At the close, Elena destroys Jack, Finally sensing the victim's "strange shrewd power" and repeating her father's crime of possession. Oates' seething imagination is itself possessed, seeking out demons until her characters become stylized in symbolic stances -- a disadvantage -- Elena's passivity is merciless (the dialogue is deadened by her delaying "yes's" and "I don't know's"). But in spite of all the anti-gravitational matter, you believe -- a tribute to one author who can create a coherent world from, the walking specters of the spirit.
Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 1973
ISBN: 0449203867
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Vanguard
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1973


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