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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates

Zombie - Joyce Carol Oates

On the cover of my trade paperback, Booklist calls this a "horrifying, revelatory work." Perhaps the explanation for this remark can be found in what Library Journal has to say about it, that "what gives this novel its awesome power is Oates's ability to convince us that Quentin might be anyone." Only problem is, this is a "revelation" only to those who know nothing about serial killers, who, after all, aren't able to ply their twisted craft by running around looking like psychotic monsters.

The book, based on the life of Jeffrey Dahmer, invites the reverse snobbism of horror and true crime fans who may well find it amusing that anyone is seriously disturbed by anything Oates describes here. It isn't that Oates gets it wrong. Quentin, her would-be Dahmer, presents a reasonable facsimile of the psychology of a certain type of serial killer: the disassociation, the lack of empathy, the sexual psychosis that finds its most satisfying release in domination and murder. But for many of us, who have seen all this before, it's easy to see how shallow it is. I didn't come away from this book with anything more than I had going in.

Well, there was one thing. Having never read much about Dahmer, I didn't know (or had forgotten) that one of his passions was the desire to create his own personal zombie sex slave. This idea becomes Quentin's overriding obsession. He even seems to take a slightly more realistic approach to it than did Dahmer himself. But that's Oates' only concession to the horror/thriller genre. How it plays out (to use Quentin's words) is how it has to play out--in a book that is about fantasy rather than being a fantasy book. Still, it's just enough to subtly sabotage the work. By "improving" Dahmer's technique, what Oates accomplishes is the exact opposite of what was needed: instead of pushing us back so that we can experience the true horror of his actions, she pulls us in, wondering if Quentin can possibly succeed.

Give it an extra star if you typically avoid this subject matter.