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MAN CRAZY by Joyce Carol Oates


by Joyce Carol Oates

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 1997
ISBN: 0-525-94232-7
Publisher: Dutton

Oates's 27th novel, following fast on the heels of last year's highly praised We Were the Mulvaneys, revisits the depressed upstate New York environs of her earliest (and perhaps most typical) fiction. It's the first-person story of 21-year-old Ingrid Boone, a small-town girl who has survived her estranged parents' rootlessness and chaotic behavior, a drug- and sex-addicted adolescence, and her captivity as the slavelike "Dog-girl" of a violent, messianic biker who rules a cult called "Satan's Children." The narrative proceeds through a succession of dreamlike short scenes that replay Ingrid's sometimes discontinuous (though mainly chronological) memories and fantasies. Ingrid is a generously imagined and vividly realized character: The deprivations and self-hatred that set her on her self-destructive path are rendered with savage clarity, and Oates makes us believe that she's also a bright, sensitive girl who seeks imaginative refuge from her traumatizing circumstances by writing poetry. The characterizations of her mother Chloe, a weak-willed beauty who'll do anything to survive, and her father Luke, a Vietnam fighter pilot who knows he can't escape his violent nature ("I'm shit in the eyes of God"), are equally compelling--as is Oates's presentation of their helpless, mutually destructive love. But the novel has flaws, including occasionally slack writing and careless anachronisms. And in the character of the sexually charismatic cultist Enoch Skaggs, Oates draws another of the unconvincingly feverish caricatures that mar several of her more portentous stories. Nor does it seem necessary to spell out the source of Ingrid's sociopathic downward progression ("Crazy for men they say it's really your own daddy you seek"). Nevertheless, as in Mulvaneys, Oates shows us the paradoxical resilience that sustains people who endure more than we can imagine, and somehow hang on. Her boldly drawn grotesques reach out to us, making us believe in them and care about their fates.