Beasts

( 4 )

Overview

A young woman tumbles into a nightmare of decadent desire and corrupted innocence in a superb novella of suspense from National Book Award–winner Joyce Carol Oates. Art and arson, the poetry of D. H. Lawrence and pulp pornography, hero-worship and sexual debasement, totems and taboos mix and mutate into a startling, suspenseful tale of how a sunny New England college campus descends into a lurid nightmare. "A small gem.... Oates does not disappoint, nor does she waste a word."—The Washington Post Book World Oates...

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Overview

A young woman tumbles into a nightmare of decadent desire and corrupted innocence in a superb novella of suspense from National Book Award–winner Joyce Carol Oates. Art and arson, the poetry of D. H. Lawrence and pulp pornography, hero-worship and sexual debasement, totems and taboos mix and mutate into a startling, suspenseful tale of how a sunny New England college campus descends into a lurid nightmare. "A small gem.... Oates does not disappoint, nor does she waste a word."—The Washington Post Book World Oates often takes on sensational subject matter ... yet rarely has she done so with the churningly quiet understatement of ... Beasts."—Los Angeles Times "A cunning fusion of Gothic romance and psychological horror story, and one of her best recent books."—Kirkus Reviews "Oates's new novel is a slim one, but it packs a serious punch."—Associated Press "Delicious ... Beasts is something of a jeu d'esprit noir.... The novella length is exactly right for it."—The New York Review of Books

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In her new novella, the prolific Oates paints a riveting picture of a time when drugs were viewed with a more tolerant eye and sexual promiscuity was the order of the day. The story revolves around a group of college girls in the 1970s and their obsessive preoccupation with charismatic anti-establishment English professor Andre Harrow and his artist wife, Dorcas. The two stand out in their small New England college town, and they revel in their difference, which draws Andre's female students to him like bees to honey. A talented and infatuated junior, Gillian is relegated to the shadows until Andre picks her out as one of his "special" girls. What follows is a disturbing look at the power of obsession and the abuse of trust. The story, though implausible in today's world, is quite believable in its 1970s setting. It's a quick read at 128 pages but suspenseful and satisfying to the end, with Oates once again displaying her amazing flair for complex and slightly bizarre characters. Recommended for all fiction collections. Caroline Mann, Univ. of Portland Lib., OR Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Oates's newest novella is a tale of academe similar to (though darker than) such earlier books as The Hungry Ghosts (1974) and American Appetites (1989). The story begins and ends in Paris, in the Louvre, where protagonist Gillian Brauer observes a garishly expressionistic "totem" that triggers buried memories of her college years. Oates thereafter moves backward and forward in time and among a catastrophic 1975 house fire in a college community in Massachusetts's Berkshire Mountains, the events leading up to it, and Gillian's conflicted feelings about the couple who "adopted" her, and her own inchoate sensibility and sexuality. At Catamount College for Women, in the wake of the permissive, volatile late 1960s, Gillian falls under the spell of her literature professor Andre Harrow, a charismatic (if vaguely goatish) mentor who chants D.H. Lawrence's "voluptuous" verses to his poetry-writing seminar students, and teasingly addresses withdrawn Gillian as "Philomela" (a telling allusion to Ovid's Metamorphoses). Meanwhile, a series of small fires set by an uncaught arsonist terrifies Catamount's students (two of whom happen to be named Sibyl and Cassandra)-as Gillian finds herself attracted as well to Harrow's sultry French wife Dorcas, a sculptress whose powerfully animistic, "primitive and dramatic" half-human figures hewed out of wood hint at elemental experiences Gillian is only beginning to imagine. Their correlative is Andre's classroom mantra "Go deeper. Go for the jugular." As Gillian becomes the latest of a number of students made the Harrows' sexual and domestic slaves, Andre's imperative that artists must acknowledge their pagan, animal natures and act accordingly is ironicallyfulfilled as is the motto engraved on Dorcas's creations: "WE ARE BEASTS AND THIS IS OUR CONSOLATION." It's not subtle, but it works. Whenever Oates (Middle Age, p. 970, etc.) composes at this length, she doesn't pad or overwrite. The result is a cunning fusion of Gothic romance and psychological horror story, and one of her best recent books.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786711031
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 11/25/2002
  • Series: Otto Penzler Books Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 622,988
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates
In a prolific and varied oeuvre that ranges over essays, plays, criticism, and several genres of fiction, Joyce Carol Oates has proved herself one of the most influential and important storytellers in the literary world.

Biography

Joyce Carol Oates is one of the most influential and important storytellers in the literary world. She has often used her supreme narrative skills to examine the dark side of middle-class Americana, and her oeuvre includes some of the finest examples of modern essays, plays, criticism, and fiction from a vast array of genres. She is still publishing with a speed and consistency of quality nearly unheard of in contemporary literature.

A born storyteller, Oates has been spinning yarns since she was a little girl too young to even write. Instead, she would communicate her stories through drawings and paintings. When she received her very first typewriter at the age of 14, her creative floodgates opened with a torrent. She says she wrote "novel after novel" throughout high school and college -- a prolificacy that has continued unabated throughout a professional career that began in 1963 with her first short story collection, By the North Gate.

Oates's breakthrough occurred in 1969 with the publication of them, a National Book Award winner that established her as a force to be reckoned with. Since that auspicious beginning, she has been nominated for nearly every major literary honor -- from the PEN/Faulkner Award to the Pulitzer Prize -- and her fiction turns up with regularity on The New York Times annual list of Notable Books.

On average Oates publishes at least one novel, essay anthology, or story collection a year (during the 1970s, she produced at the astonishing rate of two or three books a year!). And although her fiction often exposes the darker side of America's brightest facades – familial unrest, sexual violence, the death of innocence – she has also made successful forays into Gothic novels, suspense, fantasy, and children's literature. As novelist John Barth once remarked, "Joyce Carol Oates writes all over the aesthetical map."

Where she finds the time for it no one knows, but Oates manages to combine her ambitious, prolific writing career with teaching: first at the University of Windsor in Canada, then (from 1978 on), at Princeton University in New Jersey. For all her success and fame, her daily routine of teaching and writing has changed very little, and her commitment to literature as a transcendent human activity remains steadfast.

Good To Know

When not writing, Oates likes to take in a fight. "Boxing is a celebration of the lost religion of masculinity all the more trenchant for its being lost," she says in highbrow fashion of the lowbrow sport.

Oates's Black Water, which is a thinly veiled account of Ted Kennedy's car crash in Chappaquiddick, was produced as an opera in the 1990s.

In 2001, Oprah Winfrey selected Oates's novel We Were the Mulvaneys for her Book Club.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Rosamond Smith
    2. Hometown:
      Princeton, New Jersey
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 16, 1938
    2. Place of Birth:
      Lockport, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Syracuse University, 1960; M.A., University of Wisconsin, 1961

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Breath Taking

    Beasts was the first book I read by Oates, and I wasn't disappointed- by far, I was captured in her unique writing style that had me breathless within the first chapter. Being a student myself, I can easily relate to the constant forbidden attraction one may acquire for a Professor. . . Even more so for one that teaches the fine art of sensual poetry.
    The story was simple, I could easily see it happening- The over all concept was pure enough to keep attention and draw questions afterward. A great book to begin with, when starting with this author.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2002

    Suspenseful and Riveting

    This is by far one of her best works of fiction. A fast paced story that tears at your mind awakening questions, only to answer them much later. As you read you see a dark story of betrail, secrets and darkenss unfold before you. She has out done herself her. I recommend this read to any one that is able to expand their mind and succumb to the darkness that is created by others. As you read you start to believe that this may be a true story and in some ways it may have happened. Oates depicts the human ability to fall into a trap of love and how those feelings can lead you to forget who and what you are, only to find out what evil you have been apart of. A story of influence and naiveness.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2002

    Alarmingly Trite

    Joyce Carol Oates is the college sophmore who never grows up. She writes as though she is in the perpetual grip of some bitter feminist professor, railing incessantly against the exploitation of her sex. Indeed, she's published a string of these novellas in which giddy youung women are impressed by the aura of some authority figure, only to meet devastating consequences. (See also: 'The Rise of Life on Earth' and 'Black Water') She uses sexual exploitation the way John Grisham uses racism, as a pulpit from which she can preach her tired little sermons. It's only fitting that Oprah should feature her writing. It is, after all, the kind of smarmy, meaningless pornography that bored housewives would relish. It's Lifetime Television sprinkled with a few pretty words.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2001

    Alarming Memories and Events!

    Caution: Beasts is a very appropriate name for some of the human characters in this book. Some readers will be disgusted by the misbehavior in this book. I was. The book also abounds in the usual offensive four and five letter words . . . as well as the most offensive six-letter one, which will make people who dislike foul language feel like they have been draped in it. One of fiction¿s classic roles has been to strip away the veneer of civility and conventionality to reveal the untamed self that pulses at or just below the surface. Beasts takes apart the day-to-day reality of academic life to reveal the darkness lurking beneath Catamount College in a Bennington-like setting during the 1970s in the Berkshires of southwestern Massachusetts. The narrator of the novella¿s story is Gillian Brauer. She is startled to see a 200 year old totem, ¿Maternal Figure,¿ in the Louvre during a trip in February 2001. Her first thought is, ¿It wasn¿t burned after all.¿ She goes on to think, ¿This is not a confession.¿ Memories cloud in. ¿We are beasts, this is our consolation.¿ ¿We are beasts, we feel no guilt.¿ With this powerful beginning, you immediately will want to know what this story is all about. Using flashbacks, you next retreat back to Heath Cottage, Gillian¿s small dorm, at Catamount College on the night of January 20, 1976. The dorm¿s fire alarm has been pulled. What¿s happening? This first flashback builds the mystery, and you will find yourself wanting to race to turn the pages to find out more about the mystery of what has happened at Catamount . . . and to Gillian. Gillian is an impressionable junior with a taste for poetry . . . and a crush on her professor, Andre Harrow. The crush pulls her forward towards obsession, and she soon finds herself following Harrow¿s wife, Dorcas (no surname). In her poetry class, Gillian finds it difficult to reveal her deepest feelings and secrets. Harrow constantly encourages her to ¿Go deeper! . . . Go for the jugular.¿ Each student is writing a journal to help with this process of self-revelation, and the material is read in class. There¿s a competition to expose the most, and the students find themselves riveted by the experience. Each seems to share Gillian¿s ¿love¿ for Harrow. Where will it all lead? The story proceeds almost like a detective novel to explain the events that led up to Gillian¿s experiences in the book¿s first two scenes. Bit by bit, you will pick up hints, clues, and facts. Then, suddenly the whole mosaic comes together in an unforgettable picture that will haunt you. The tension and the mystery in the book are nicely developed and balanced. You will enjoy the development of Gillian¿s character, because you will feel like she is part of you by the time the story ends. I was left thinking about how the experiences described in the book would have changed my life, had they occurred to me. Shine the light of truth to push back the cover of darkness from falsity! Protect innocents! Donald Mitchell, co-author of The 2,000 Percent Solution and The Irresistible Growth Enterprise

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