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ZOMBIE by Joyce Carol Oates

ZOMBIE

By Joyce Carol Oates

Pub Date: Oct. 5th, 1995
ISBN: 0-525-94045-6
Publisher: Dutton

Oates (What I Live For, 1994, etc.) is at her most Grand Guignol in this searing study of a psychopathic killer. Quentin P___, son of the distinguished philosopher/physicist of Mt. Vernon State University, Professor R___ P___, has supportive parents, a doting grandmother, and a cautiously approving sister, principal of Mt. Vernon Middle School. Since his arrest for assaulting a 12-year-old boy from the projects, he's also acquired a therapist, a group therapist, and a probation officer. And none of them suspects that underneath his mask of propriety and compliance ("YES SIR. NO MA'AM''), Quentin seethes in isolation and anger; or that in his attempt to create a zombie slave who gives him unconditional loyalty and love ("God bless you, Master....You are good, Master. You are kind & merciful''), he's already killed three men, victims of the hideously botched transorbital lobotomies he performs with ice pick and textbook; or that he is on the scent of a fourth. Quentin's stalkings and killings are described, unnervingly, with exactly the same combination of matter-of-fact detail and simmering rage as his accounts of meeting his therapy group or doing errands for his grandma. The effect is not to empty his crimes or his madness of their horror, but to link Quentin to us by dispersing the horror through the rituals of ordinary bourgeois life in the Detroit suburbs. As readers of the excerpt Oates published last year in The New Yorker can attest, it's a deeply disturbing experience to watch Quentin regarding himself, his family, his would-be zombies and their bones with the same focus-free lens, an eye that makes no distinction between I and thou and it, and yet Oates's portrait never really tells us anything we didn't learn from American Psycho or The Collector or The Voyeur. Minor Oates, then, but a raw, scorching draft just the same.