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A Fair Maiden
     

A Fair Maiden

3.0 14
by Joyce Carol Oates, Angela Goethals (Narrated by)
 

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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 that he's written, his classical

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 that 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 light-hearted endeavor it once was. What does he really want from her? And how far will he go to get it?

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.)

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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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781609981662
Publisher:
Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Publication date:
04/12/2011
Edition description:
Unabridged
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 6.00(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction and a winner of the National Book Award. Among her major works are We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde, and The Falls. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Princeton, New Jersey
Date of Birth:
June 16, 1938
Place of Birth:
Lockport, New York
Education:
B.A., Syracuse University, 1960; M.A., University of Wisconsin, 1961

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A Fair Maiden 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Terrible, one of the worst books I've read.
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DoreenNovak More than 1 year ago
Nothing very heavy here. A nice, light summer read. Intriguing story.