The Washington Post
The Museum of Dr. Moses: Tales of Mystery and Suspenseby Joyce Carol Oates
Ten Suspenseful Stories explore with chilling accuracy the ways in which evil enters our lives: In "Hi! Howya Doin!" an intrusive jogger meets with an abrupt fate; in "The Man Who Fought Roland LaStarza" a young woman's romantic view of her girlhood is devastated by her father's confession; and in "Valentine, July Heat Wave" a man prepares a gruesome surprise for the… See more details below
Ten Suspenseful Stories explore with chilling accuracy the ways in which evil enters our lives: In "Hi! Howya Doin!" an intrusive jogger meets with an abrupt fate; in "The Man Who Fought Roland LaStarza" a young woman's romantic view of her girlhood is devastated by her father's confession; and in "Valentine, July Heat Wave" a man prepares a gruesome surprise for the wife who has betrayed him. In the memorable title story, a young woman tries to rescue her mother from the museum of Dr. Moses-with unexpected results. And the children of a notorious serial killer struggle to "decode" the patterns behind their father's seemingly random acts in "Bad Habits." The Museum of Dr. Moses is another chilling masterpiece from "one of the great artistic forces of our time" (The Nation).
About 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
The Washington Post
The words "gothic" and "macabre" rather than "mystery" and "suspense" might better describe the 10 beautifully told stories in this superb collection from the prolific Oates (The Female of the Species). In the startling opening tale, "Hi! Howya Doin!," an overly friendly jogger encounters someone with a less rosy outlook on life. In the horrifying "Valentine, July Heat Wave," an estranged wife finds a very unpleasant surprise in the home she once shared with her academic husband. In the haunting "Feral," a near-death experience transforms a much-loved only child into something wild and unknowable. The title story concerns a horrific exhibit in the home of an aging coroner in upstate New York (whose behavior is even more troubling). The book's best story, "The Man Who Fought Roland LaStarza," about an aging boxer in a bout that will make or end his career, happens to be the least gruesome. Powerful narratives, a singular imagination and exquisite prose make this a collection to relish. (Aug.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Adult/High School Ten stories that are at once suspenseful and macabre. In "Valentine, July Heat Wave," an estranged wife returns to collect her things only to find a repulsive "valentine" awaiting her. In "Suicide Watch," a drug-addicted son teases his father with a shocking story about his grandbaby. The collection culminates with the most frightening of all, "The Museum of Dr. Moses," in which the young protagonist finds a multitude of horrors awaiting her in the museum/house where her mother now lives with her infamous new husband. Oates's succinct sentences and carefully chosen words convey emotion with sledgehammer impact. The exception to this style is "Hi, How Are You," a one-sentence story with a big-bang conclusion about two joggers in which the commas seem to act as the breaths of the runners. The author is a master storyteller, and teens will identify with the themes here: approval, friendship, love, death, and family relationships, especially between parents and children. Readers who are interested in tales of abuse, such as Dave Pelzer's autobiographical A Child Called It (Health Communications, 1995), or Stephen King-like tales of horror will gobble up this well-crafted collection.-Ellen Bell, Amador Valley High School, Pleasanton, CA
"Suspense fiction is like a powerful drug: one page, one taste, can induce such a tingly, speedy feeling that it takes an almost superhuman effort not to finish everything off in just one sitting. At least, that’s how it is with Joyce Carol Oates’s new collection . . . You can’t put this book down."The New York Times Book Review
"As ever, Oates shocks, delights and amuses because she's so good at what she does."The Baltimore Sun
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Read an Excerpt
The Museum of Dr. MosesTales of Mystery and Suspense
By Oates, Joyce Carol
HarcourtCopyright © 2007 Oates, Joyce Carol
All right reserved.
Hi! Howya Doin!
Good-looking husky guy, six foot four, in late twenties or early thirties, Caucasian male as the initial police report will note, he’s as solid-built as a fire hydrant, carries himself like an athlete, or an ex-athlete, just perceptibly thickening at the waist, otherwise in terrific condition, like a bronze figure in motion, sinewy arms pumping as he runs, long muscled legs, chiseled-muscled calves, he’s hurtling along the moist wood-chip path at the western edge of the university arboretum at approximately 6 p.m. Thursday evening and there comes, from the other direction, a woman jogger on the path, in her late thirties, flushed face, downturned eyes, dark hair threaded with gray like cobwebs, an awkward runner, fleshy lips parted, holds her arms stiff at her sides, in a shrunken pullover shirt with a faded tiger on its front, not large but sizable breasts shaking as she runs, mimicked in the slight shaking of her cheeks, her hips in carrot-colored sweatpants, this is Madeline Hersey, frowning at the wood-chip path before her, Madeline’s exasperating habit of staring at the ground when she runs, oblivious of the arboretum though at this time in May it’s dazzling with white dogwood, pink dogwood, vivid yellow forsythia, Madeline is alab technician at Squibb, lost in a labyrinth of her own tangled thoughts (career, lover, lover’s learning-disabled child), startled out of her reverie by the loud aggressive-friendly greeting Hi! Howya doin! flung out at her like a playful slap on the buttocks as the tall husky jogger passes Madeline with the most fleeting of glances, big-toothed bemused smile, and Madeline loses her stride, in a faltering voice Fine, thank you but the other jogger is past, unhearing, and now on the gravel path behind the university hospital, now on the grassy towpath beside the old canal, in the green lushness of University Dells Park where, from late afternoon to dusk, joggers are running singly and in couples, in groups of three or more, track-team runners from the local high school, college students, white-haired older runners both male and female, to these the husky jogger in skintight mustard yellow T-shirt, short navy blue shorts showing his chiseled thigh muscles, size-twelve Nikes, calls out Hi! Howya doin! in a big bland booming voice, Hi! Howya doin! and a flash of big horsey teeth, long pumping legs, pumping arms, it’s his practice to come up close behind a solitary jogger, a woman maybe, a girl, or an older man, so many “older” men (forties, fifties, sixties and beyond) in the university community, sometimes a younger guy who’s sweated through his clothes, beginning to breathe through his mouth, size-twelve Nikes striking the earth like mallets, Hi! Howya doin! jolting Kyle Lindeman out of dreamy-sexy thoughts, jolting Michelle Rossley out of snarled anxious thoughts, there’s Diane Hendricks who’d been an athlete in high school, now twenty pounds overweight, divorced, no kid, replaying in her head a quarrel she’d had with a woman friend, goddamn she’s angry! goddamn she’s not going to call Ginny back this time! trying to calm her rush of thoughts like churning, roiling water, trying to measure her breaths Zen-fashion, inhale, exhale, inhale, and out of nowhere into this reverie a tall husky hurtling figure bears down on her, toward her, veering into her line of vision, instinctively Diane bears to the right to give him plenty of room to pass her, hopes this is no one she knows from work, no one who knows her, trying not to look up at him, tall guy, husky, must weigh two-twenty, works out, has got to be an athlete, or ex-athlete, a pang of sexual excitement courses through her, or is it sexual dread? even as Hi! Howya doin! rings out loud and bemused, like an elbow in Diane’s left breast, as the stranger pounds past her, in his wake an odor of male sweat, acrid-briny male sweat and an impression of big glistening teeth bared in a brainless grin, or is it a mock grin, death’s-head grin?—thrown off stride, self-conscious and stumbling, Diane manages to stammer Fine—I’m fine as if the stranger brushing past her is interested in her or in her well-being in the slightest, what a fool Diane is!—yet another day, moist-bright morning in the University Dells along the path beside the seed-stippled lagoon where amorous-combative male mallards are pursuing female ducks with much squawking, flapping of wings and splashing water, there comes the tall husky jogger, Caucasian male, six foot four, two-twenty pounds, no ID as the initial police report will note, on this occasion the jogger is wearing a skintight black Judas Priest T-shirt, very short white nylon shorts revealing every surge, ripple, sheen of chiseled thigh muscles, emerging out of a shadowy pathway at the edge of the birch woodsto approach Dr. Rausch of the university’s geology department, older man, just slightly vain about being fit, dark-tinted aviator glasses riding the bridge of his perspiring nose, Dr. Rausch panting as he runs, not running so fast as he’d like, rivulets of sweat like melting grease down his back, sides, sweating through his shirt, in baggy khaki shorts to the knee, Dr. Rausch grinding his jaws in thought (departmental budget cuts! his youngest daughter’s wrecked marriage! his wife’s biopsy next morning at 7 a.m., he will drive her to the medical center and wait for her, return her home and yet somehow get to the tenure committee meeting he’s chairing at 11 a.m.) when Hi! Howya doin! jolts Dr. Rausch as if the husky jogger in the black Judas Priest T-shirt has extended a playful size-twelve foot onto Dr. Rausch’s path to trip him, suddenly he’s thrown off stride, poor old guy, hasn’t always been sixty-four years old, sunken-chested, skinny white legs sprouting individual hairs like wires, hard little potbelly straining at the unbelted waistline of the khaki shorts, Dr. Rausch looks up squinting, is this someone he knows? should know? who knows him? across the vertiginous span of thirty years in the geology department Dr. Rausch has had so many students, but before he can see who this is, or make a panting effort to reply in the quick-casual way of youthful joggers, the husky jogger has passed by Dr. Rausch without a second glance, legs like pistons of muscle, shimmering sweat-film like a halo about his body, fair brown, russet brown hair in curls like woodshavings lifting halolike from his large uplifted head, big toothy smile, large broad nose made for deep breathing, enormous dark nostrils that look as if thumbs have been shoved into them, soon again this shimmering male figure appears on the far side of the Dells, another afternoon on the institute grounds, hard-pounding feet, muscled arms pumping, on this day a navy blue T-shirt faded from numerous launderings, another time the very short navy blue shorts, as he runs he exudes a yeasty body odor, sighting a solitary male jogger ahead he quickens his pace to overtake him, guy in his early twenties, university student, no athlete, about five eight, skinny guy, running with some effort, breathing through his mouth and in his head a swirl of numerals, symbols, equations, quantum optics, quantum noise, into this reverie Hi! Howya doin! is like a firecracker tossed by a prankish kid, snappishly the younger jogger replies I’m okay as his face flushes, how like high school, junior high kids pushing him around, in that instant he’s remembering, almost now limping, lost the stride, now life seems pointless, you know it’s pointless, you live, you die, look how his grandfather died, what’s the point? there is none, as next day, next week, late Friday afternoon of the final week in May along the canal towpath past Linden Road where there are fewer joggers, looming up suddenly in your line of vision, approaching you, a tall husky male jogger running in the center of the path, instinctively you bear to the right, instinctively you turn your gaze downward, no eye contact on the towpath, you’ve been lost in thought, coils of thought like electric currents burning hot, scalding hot, the very pain, anguish, futility of your thoughts, for what is your soul but your thoughts? upright flame cupped between your hands silently pleading Don’t speak to me, respect my privacy please even as the oncoming jogger continues to approach, in the center of the path, inexorably, unstoppably, curly hairs on his arms shimmering with a bronze roseate glow, big teeth bared in a smile Hi! Howya doin! loud and bland and booming mock-friendly, and out of the pocket of your nylon jacket you fumble to remove the snub-nosed .22-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver you’d stolen from your stepfather’s lodge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, three years before, hateful of the old drunk asshole, you’d waited for him to ask if you’d taken it, were you the one to take his gun that’s unlicensed? and your stepfather never asked, and you never told, and you lift the toylike gun in a hand trembling with excitement, with trepidation, with anticipation, aim at the face looming at you like a balloon face up close, and fire, and the bullet leaps like magic from the toylike weapon with unexpected force and short-range accuracy and enters the face at the forehead directly above the big-nostriled nose, in an instant the husky jogger in the mustard yellow T-shirt drops to his knees on the path, already the mustard yellow T-shirt is splashed with blood, on his belly now, brawny arms outspread, face flattened against the path, fallen silent and limp as a cloth puppet when the puppeteer has lost interest and dropped the puppet, he’s dead, That’s how I’m doin.
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JCO is at her most delightfully grotesque and shocking here. One of the few people still able to surprise me when reading her Gothic, suspense, or mystery fiction. These stories are wonderfully constructed, at various lengths. She can play on your expectations like a fine-tuned instrument. Since you know these are mysteries or suspense stories, she can add such subtle shades to the most innocuous statements, and start that feeling of unease deep inside of you. As always, Oates seems to recount the novels as if she's experienced them or as if they've really happened, instead of creating them, and that always lends to an impeccable sense of realism, even when the most outrageous or absurd things are happening. Ever since BY THE NORTH GATE, I've had these feeling about her and her writing *Suicide Watch---I really connected to this one, so tragic and inevitable. Captures the desire to be close to and help those we love who are in need, and at the same time, also captures the constant exhaustion and repulsion in dealing with the same old patterns that emerge with addiction. What follows is the ultimate test of a father's loyalty to his son. Head-shakingly weird. *Valentine, July Heat Wave---A cruel "Valentine" from husband to wife, detailing with unusual, but impeccable internal and erudite logic, his commitment to fidelity and his marriage. His is the Valentine of all Valentines. I had to look upon the Interwebs how this story is written, and most of it is written in the "second person singular (mostly future emphatic)". You don't see that very often. *Feral---A fascinating take on the time when one's children start to grow up and pull away, with an ending making you wish there was more and more. *Museum of Doctor Moses-She has taken a bizarre offshoot of how traditionally, men regarded women, that is very unsettling and expresses so bittersweet that secret loathing one feels for victims that mixes with the respect you have for them for making their own decisions. This was the most disturbing of the bunch. Read these now!