Guilty Pleasure

November 7, 2010

Joyce Carol Oates , A Fair Maiden, New York: Otto Penzler Books, 2010

Reviewed by Gayle McIntyre

5711702You didn’t hear it from me.  I’ll deny that I recommended this adults-only page turner.  What can be so engrossing about a rich, sophisticated, well respected man befriending a young woman at the Jersey shore?  The sex, violence and sinister manipulation that ensue, might be the answer.

Joyce Carol Oates’ 2010 novel A Fair Maiden lures the reader in with a seemingly simple plot of boy meets girl at a summer holiday town.  The charming and handsome Marcus Kidder convinces the young and insecure Katya Spivak that they were destined to meet and be friends.  Unlike the children in her care as a nanny, she has had a harsh childhood and is trying to better herself, distance herself from her alcoholic mother, and desperately wants to be loved.  Receiving the attentions of the local artist and a long-standing member of the privileged society of this seaside resort has boosted her self-esteem considerably.

She sees the way he looks at her tanned legs and young body.  The catch is, he’s four times her age. Is he really interested in her only as a model for his paintings?  He certainly pays her more than she earns as a nanny.

Well, If I started out denying that I would admit to recommending Oates’ new novel, one would surmise that Marcus has more in mind than painting.  But he has more in mind than the obvious. He needs her, and it’s more complicated than sex.  This fair maiden of the title has a role to play in his scripted and planned life.   The exact role she is to play comes as a complete surprise to the reader, and how he gets her to agree to it, is manipulation at its best.  Although disturbing reading at times, I immediately went to the shelves for another novel by this author who has over fifty novels to her credit and counting.

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