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A Fair Maiden

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Overview

Sixteen-year-old Katya Spivak is out for a walk on the gracious streets of Bayhead Harbor with her two summer babysitting charges when she?s approached by silver-haired, elegant Marcus Kidder. At first his interest in her seems harmless, even pleasant; like his name, a sort of gentle joke. His beautiful home, the children?s books he?s written, his classical music, the marvelous art in his study, his lavish presents to her?Mr. Kidder?s life couldn?t be more different from Katya?s drab working-class existence back ...

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A Fair Maiden

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Overview

Sixteen-year-old Katya Spivak is out for a walk on the gracious streets of Bayhead Harbor with her two summer babysitting charges when she’s approached by silver-haired, elegant Marcus Kidder. At first his interest in her seems harmless, even pleasant; like his name, a sort of gentle joke. His beautiful home, the children’s books he’s written, his classical music, the marvelous art in his study, his lavish presents to her—Mr. Kidder’s life couldn’t be more different from Katya’s drab working-class existence back home in South Jersey, or more enticing. But by degrees, almost imperceptibly, something changes, and posing for Mr. Kidder’s new painting isn’t the lighthearted endeavor it once was. What does he really want from her? And how far will he go to get it?

In the tradition of Oates’s classic story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" A Fair Maiden is an unsettling, ambiguous tale of desire and control.

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Editorial Reviews

Jane Smiley
Oates's world is our world: crass at best and vile at worst, and American to the core. But we keep returning, and we do so for the same reason I went on with A Fair Maiden—not because Marcus and Katya are winning or even enlightening, but because Oates's ability to plot is like no other writer's. It's as if she has a direct channel to the reader's mind. Just when the novel or story becomes too disagreeable (or too true, depending on your view of things) to continue with, she offers a little twist of action or motivation that turns a few more pages, and the reader wonders all over again, how did she think of that?
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Sixteen-year-old Katya Spivak and elderly Marcus Kidder share a bizarre romance in Oates's derivative and unpolished new novel. In bland Bayhead Harbor, N.J., Katya serves as a nanny to the Engelhardts' two young children. Attractive Katya-unappreciated by her alcoholic mother, mistreated by the tyrannical Engelhardts-is intrigued by the attentions of wealthy Mr. Kidder, a former children's book author and amateur painter. The courting is slow at first, but after Katya accepts Mr. Kidder's money to help her mother pay off a debt, things accelerate. Soon Katya is posing for Mr. Kidder in lingerie and receiving payment upon each visit. She begins to feel used, but is thankful for the attention-until one evening when Mr. Kidder possibly drugs her, at which point something equally bizarre and predictable happens. Katya and Mr. Kidder's final meeting reveals Mr. Kidder's true intention for Katya, but the revelation isn't worth the buildup. This is certainly one of Oates's lesser works. (Aug.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

A summer nanny in an upscale New Jersey Shore community, 15-year-old Katya Spivak is approached by wealthy 68-year-old author and artist Marcus Kidder-and one immediately wonders where this is leading. Oates (Dear Husband) creates a growing sense of evil as Katya becomes more involved with Kidder. First she visits him innocently enough with her charges for tea, then comes over alone when she needs money to help her mother out of a jam; finally, after one unreasonable demand, she rebels. In exploring Katya's life and relations, including her gambling, man-chasing mother, jealous sisters, and criminal boyfriend Ray, Oates shows makes it clear why a wealthy, sophisticated man would become irresistible to Katya. The answer to the question whether Kidder's intentions are good or evil and whether Katya will eventually be saved or ruined lead to the climax of this short but satisfying novel.
—Josh Cohen

Kirkus Reviews
A patient act of seduction has curiously appropriate mythic resonance in this brisk novella. It's a "fairy tale," explicitly linked to the anonymous "Ballad of Barbara Allen" (excerpts from which are quoted in the text) about a cruel young beauty and the boy who died for love of her. But Oates (Wild Nights!, 2008, etc.) considerably alters those details in the story of 16-year-old Katya Spivak's summer of employment as nanny to the young children of a wealthy couple who vacation in the posh New Jersey seaside town of Bayhead Harbor. This haven lies far from Vineland, the grimy inland hamlet where Katya's broken and wasted family members are "scattered like sea creatures washed ashore in the wake of a terrible storm." Marcus Kidder, an elegant, handsome older man, approaches Katya and politely courts her, gradually emphasizing his intuition that they are "soul mates." She finds herself dreamily visiting his lavish home, first rejecting then luxuriating in his attentions, gradually edging away from the worlds she knows and fears to enter Mr. Kidder's artfully woven web. This being Oates, there's a considerable amount of melodrama and violence, mostly initiated by Katya's drunken slut of a mother, and her thuggish cousin Roy. But this brief tale, oddly reminiscent here and there of Edith Wharton's classic short novel Summer, is expertly paced and suffused, not only with the usual hasty and lax prose, but also with sharp suggestive images: e.g., Kidder's limousine, always waiting for Katya, slinks along "silent and smooth-gliding as an undersea predator." Furthermore, the sinister, charming, "artistic" Mr. Kidder, a king of sorts among men, emerges quite convincingly as both more and lessthan he appears to be. Oates at her most restrained and hence best. This one almost makes up for the ludicrous overkill of My Sister, My Love (2008). Almost.
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR JOYCE CAROL OATES:

"What keeps us coming back to Oates Country is… her uncanny gift of making the page a window, with something on the other side that we'd swear was life itself."—The New York Times Book Review

 

"For 40 years, Joyce Carol Oates has maintained a creative dialogue with the roiling cauldron of contemporary American culture, writing unflinchingly about the oddities that bubble up into the headlines."—Washington Post Book World

Library Journal
Oates's follow-up to Little Bird of Heaven (2009) tracks the evolution of an ill-fated relationship between Katya Spivak, an impoverished teen working as a nanny at a wealthy beach enclave, and Marcus Kidder, a charming and successful children's book author old enough to be her grandfather. Marcus's sinuous, unflinching seduction of Katya is a testament to Oates's ability to make readers/listeners feel like voyeurs. Actress Angela Goethals brightly and expressively narrates this gothic tale, recommended where there is a high demand for literary fiction. [A "short but satisfying novel," read the review of the Houghton hc, LJ 5/15/09; seven other of Oates's works are also available from BBC Audiobooks America.—Ed.]—Carly Wiggins, Consolidated Community Schs. Lib., Newberry, MI
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780151015160
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 1/6/2010
  • Pages: 165
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

JOYCE CAROL OATES is the recipient of the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction and the winner of the National Book Award. Among her major works are We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde, and The Falls.

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

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  • Posted July 22, 2012

    A Decent Read

    Nothing very heavy here. A nice, light summer read. Intriguing story.

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