- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Reading Man Crazy made me want to take a long, hot shower to wash away the sheer unpleasantness of Joyce Carol Oates' fictional world. And Ingrid Boone, Oates' narrator, suffers far more than I did -- she literally itches with the creepiness that surrounds her, scratching at her own skin until it oozes and bleeds.
Ingrid's childhood is spent in upstate New York, piecing together the disturbing facts of her family life and waiting with her mother, Chloe, for her father, a hot-tempered Vietnam vet who's fleeing the police, to reappear. Chloe is a beautiful blond who accepts violence as inevitable. She tells her daughter that men shoot pigeons because "it's what men do when they can't shoot one another." The earliest chapters, which can successfully stand on their own and have been published as short stories, are the finest parts of the book and offer plenty of examples of Oates' literary skill and gift for offhand, surprisingly insightful comments.
The novel suddenly loses all sense of perspective when Ingrid hits adolescence and enters the mysterious milieu of drugs and submissive sex, instead of just observing her parents' chaotic world from the sidelines. Because Oates never comments on Ingrid's confused story, it's hard to fathom why she becomes Dog-girl, a member of the Satan's Children biker group, and why she's in thrall to the cult's leader, a poor man's Manson called Enoch Skaggs. All we know is that Ingrid is swept up in a world of human sacrifice and absolute madness that's described in graphic yet weirdly dull detail: "Dozens of bullets tore through him so his blood and meat-tissue and certain of his organs and his intestines would seep out onto the grassless ground where he fell beside the rust-desiccated hulk of an abandoned tractor seeping like cooked fruit leaking through cheesecloth ..." You get the idea.
Oates faithfully conveys what it feels like to be Ingrid, expressing the experiences of Dog-girl in her own words, with no mediation whatsoever. The problem is that Ingrid's thoughts range from the addled to the banal, and the events that she describes are as disjointed as images flashing on MTV. Oates' refusal to sort out Ingrid's messy ordeal leaves us with nothing beyond the girl's own half-baked notion that she's seeking her absent father and feels she deserves any punishment men mete out. Man Crazy is, to borrow from William James, all heat and no light. Oates has taken us to hell and back without providing the insight or sustenance to make it a trip worth taking. -- Salon