By Joyce Carol Oates
** Publication Date 6 October 2020**
Joyce Carol Oates has given us another collection of short stories, or novellas. Each has its own elements of suspense, some frightening, some not so much. I truly enjoy the short story format, as it’s nearly possible to finish an entire “book” in an evening. Of the four, I must say that Miao Dao was my favorite. Perhaps it’s because I currently am trying to befriend my own feral cats.
The title of the book refers to the first novella. In it, a young woman receives a phone call that leads her to find her biological family, but not in the best way. In the town Cardiff, By the Sea, she has inherited the family home. When she makes the trip from her home in Pennsylvania to Maine, she finds that Cardiff can be a little unsettling, as is the story of her biological family. Because she is a researcher, she feels the need to get to the bottom of her history. But sometimes, some things are better left unlearned.
Miao Dao finds a young girl named Mia in the midst of puberty and family upheaval. When she finds a feral kitten in the vacant lot next to her home, she sneaks the kitten into the house. Raising the kitten, which she names Miao Dao, she feels one with it, and feels it is the closest thing to family that she has, in spite of living with her mother. Things start to go awry when her mother has a new boyfriend. Plus, the boys at school become obsessed with girls and torment Mia. Will Miao Dao be her savior?
A young female literature student befriends a visiting professor, becoming his archive assistant. Another professor seduces the student but then quickly acts as though nothing has happened. When things go horribly wrong in the student’s life, the visiting professor professes his true feelings to make the student his companion. She finds a book of his poetry in the archives and wonders if perhaps the best thing would be to take the elderly visiting professor up on his offer. Suddenly the other professor reappears to try to make things right with the student. His behavior is quite unexpected, but thrilling to the student. She has a choice to make.
Lastly, a young boy named Stefan loses his mother and sister in a horrible tragedy. His father finds a lovely new woman to marry and bring into their sad, ancestral home. However, this home seems to have a mind of its own – with a toxic well and a garage with secrets. Stefan simply wants to be loved and taken care of. Secrets abound, and it’s up to this woman to figure out if her imagination has gone wild, or if the house is truly evil.
After reading this collection, I am compelled to read my other Joyce Carol Oates collection of short stories. All of these stories will give you a bit of a chill. Put on another cup of tea.