NIGHT-SIDE by Joyce Carol Oates

NIGHT-SIDE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Only with the title story--the 1887 journal of a psychic researcher whose most skeptical colleague fatally embraces spiritualism--does "Night-Side" suggest the occult; elsewhere it signifies the dark side of earthly lives: the quicksandy borders of madness, the fear of death, the pressure-cooker of loneliness, secret sexualities, hostilities, fantasies. In all but a few of these tales, Oates communes with a single distressed mind, invariably isolated, facing a crisis, self-dramatizing: the mask-wearers for whom the voices around them are a distant buzzing in the ear. A homosexual ad-man (others have closets, he has "The Dungeon") hysterically records his horror of discovery, his ambivalent longings for sympathetic Eleanora, his relish/disgust for the "Forbidden." A neglected daughter is reclaimed by her politician father and worries (wishes?) that an assassin (imagined? real? herself?) lurks nearby. A "Fatal Woman" muses on her God-given "power over men"--an illusion about to crack. A young, sudden widow is forced by a slightly more merry one to verbalize her left-over feelings and emerge from the protective shell of mourning. NearIy a third Of these tortured souls are doctors--death-defiers and mind-healers--who present the world with a smile of calm omniscience and, inside, are trembling with confusion, benumbed with panic, or harboring delusions. At her best when forcing us to join her up close (first person or an equivalent), Oates' weakest efforts--a houseful of crazies, a father who treats his mad daughter as a genius--stand back too far and leave a clinical aroma. And when she touches, briefly, on religion or philosophy, the tenuous control-by-tension collapses. This may be a monotonous collection; only "The Translation" (an American in untranslatable love behind the Iron Curtain) establishes a distinct rhythm of its own. And the writing often seems even more unlovely, slopping over into melo- or soap drama, than it needs to be. But most of these tales lure you in, feeding you their secrets stingily, and occasionally forcing a gasp or a sigh of real empathy for minds in disarray.
Pub Date: Oct. 7th, 1977
ISBN: 0449242064
Page count: 324pp
Publisher: Vanguard
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1977




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