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I Am No One You Know

I Am No One You Know

3.7 9
by Joyce Carol Oates

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I Am No One You Know contains nineteen startling stories that bear witness to the remarkably varied lives of Americans of our time. In "Fire," a troubled young wife discovers a rare, radiant happiness in an adulterous relationship. In "Curly Red," a girl makes a decision to reveal a family secret, and changes her life irrevocably. In "The Girl with the


I Am No One You Know contains nineteen startling stories that bear witness to the remarkably varied lives of Americans of our time. In "Fire," a troubled young wife discovers a rare, radiant happiness in an adulterous relationship. In "Curly Red," a girl makes a decision to reveal a family secret, and changes her life irrevocably. In "The Girl with the Blackened Eye," selected for The Best American Mystery Stories 2001, a girl pushed to an even greater extreme of courage and desperation manages to survive her abduction by a serial killer. And in "Three Girls," two adventuresome NYU undergraduates seal their secret love by following, and protecting, Marilyn Monroe in disguise at Strand Used Books on a snowy evening in 1956.

These vividly rendered portraits of women, men, and children testify to Oates's compassion for the mysterious and luminous resources of the human spirit.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
It is as if these pieces, by being smaller, are even sharper -- as a small television's picture can seem unnaturally crisp. — John Schwartz
Publishers Weekly
Never one to shy away from grim or sensational themes, Oates writes about murder, rape, arson and terrorism in her latest collection of short fiction. In these 19 stories, she evokes the underbellies of small towns and the bizarre and obsessive desires of their inhabitants. In "Upholstery," a teenager finds herself helplessly attracted to a lecherous older man. A 14-year-old in "The Girl with the Blackened Eye" is brutally abducted but afraid to break her kidnapper's trust by escaping. In Oates's precise psychological renderings, victims are as complex as villains and almost always more interesting. The lure of the criminal is seductive, impossible to resist. Two stories, "In Hiding" and "The Instructor," feature middle-class female intellectuals inexplicably drawn to convicts. The prototypical victim, Marilyn Monroe-also the subject of Oates's acclaimed 2001 novel Blonde-appears in disguise in "Three Girls," when two young coeds encounter her in the Strand bookstore and agree to help her remain anonymous. The collection closes with a story about September 11 that in anyone but Oates's hands would fall flat. But "The Mutants," in which a young woman trapped in her downtown apartment building refuses to be paralyzed by fear, is beautifully, uncannily affecting. "She was hollow-eyed and gaunt yet wakeful, no longer the dreamy-eyed blond. A mutant being, primed to survive." Indeed, even the strangest events in this sure-footed collection are painfully familiar. (Apr. 16) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Like an ominous storm cloud forming on the horizon, these 19 stories (all previously published in slightly different form) build on a sense of foreboding. In Part 1, the storm hits hard, with each story considering the issue of unnatural death in a different, but equally troubling, way. The storm seems to pass without striking Part 2, however, as here the issues surrounding murder, accidents, and criminality are resolved. The four stories in Part 3 pull us away to a different sort of storm, that of relationships in their many forms, such as the love affair between a teacher and a student found in "Mrs. Halifax and Rickie Swann: A Ballad." The last two stories switch gears completely, exploring the meeting of two students with Marilyn Monroe and a woman's isolation during the September 11 attacks. In all these stories, Oates demonstrates her continued ability to create edgy stories that are still grounded in reality. She immerses the reader in disturbing dilemmas and then resolves them in unexpected ways. Not for the faint of heart but recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/03.]-Joshua Cohen, Mid-Hudson Lib. Syst., Poughkeepsie, NY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
More of the same, from the most frustratingly uneven writer in the business. In other words, the usual disjointed gathering of carefully composed and inexplicably slipshod work: 19 stories, of varying length and intensity, most of which present overfamiliar Oates character types: people who experience violence or menace or are haunted and traumatized by memories of it. Examples include: "The Girl with the Blackened Eye," recalling how she survived abduction and rape by a serial killer; a 60-ish "forensic specialist" fascinated by the body he partially "reconstructs" from a murder victim's battered remains ("The Skull: A Love Story"); and the unhappily married woman teacher who unwisely seduces an unstable teenaged misfit boy ("Mrs. Halifax and Rickie Swann: A Ballad"). Many involve families variously misshapen: a suburban husband who deals recklessly with the constant importunings of his underachieving, possibly suicidal brother-in-law ("Aiding and Abetting"); a woman who reluctantly accompanies her long "lost" brother to the house where their father had murdered their mother ("The Deaths: An Elegy"); and the bright, despairing adolescent boy who stoically "protects" his promiscuous, drug-addled mother ("Me & Wolfie, 1979"). There's nothing new here-or even in such nominally unfamiliar tales as that of "two NYU girl-poets" who encounter Marilyn Monroe in a bookstore ("Three Girls"), or an account of the 9/11 catastrophe as experienced by a woman seemingly blessed with a perfect life ("The Mutants"). Three stories strike deeper: "Curly Red," the wrenching monologue of "a daughter denounced by her family for ratting to police on two brothers" (who had committed murder); a middle-agedwoman's complex memory of the predatory neighbor who had almost raped her, years earlier ("Upholstery"); and the splendidly ironic "Happiness," about a presumable parricide and its contrasting effects on the lives of two sisters. Vintage Oates-and very much an acquired taste. Agent: John Hawkins/John Hawkins Associates

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I Am No One You Know

Chapter One

Curly Red

I was Daddy's favorite of his seven kids, but still he sent me into exile when I was thirteen and refused to speak to me for twenty-seven years, nor would he allow me to return to our house on Crescent Avenue, Perrysburg, New York, even when Grandma died (though he couldn't keep me away from the funeral mass at St. Stephen's and afterward the burial in the church cemetery, where I stood at a distance, crying) when I was twenty-two. Only in the final months of his life, when Daddy was weakened with emphysema and the anger leaked from him, was I allowed to return to help Mom sometimes. Because now Mom needed me. But it was never the same between us.

Daddy was only seventy-three when he died, but he looked much older, ravaged. Always he'd driven himself hard, working (plumber, pipe fitter), drinking heavily, smoking, raging. He'd been involved all his working life with union politics. Feuds with employers, and with other union members and organizers. Every election, Daddy was in a fever for weeks. One of those men involved behind the scenes. "Delivering the Perrysburg labor vote." A hard-muscled man with a roostery air of self-esteem, yet edgy, suspicious. Daddy was a local character, a known person. He'd been an amateur boxer, light heavyweight, in the U.S. Army (1950–52), and worked out at a downtown gym, had a punching bag and a heavy bag in the garage, sparred with my brothers, who could never, swift on their feet as they were, stay out of reach of his "dynamite" right cross. When I was living with relatives across town, in what I call my exile, I knew my father at a distance: caught glimpses of him on the street, saw his picture in the paper. Then things changed, younger men were coming up in the union, Daddy and his friends lost power, Daddy got sick, and one sickness led to another. By the time I was allowed back in the house on Crescent Avenue, Daddy was under hospice care, and he'd turned into an old man, shrunken by fifty pounds, furrows in his face like you'd make in a piecrust with a fork. I stared and stared. Was this my father? That face I knew to be ruddy-skinned, good-looking, now gaunt and strangely collapsed about the mouth. Even his shrewd eyes were smaller and shifting worriedly in their sockets as if he was thinking, Is it in the room with me yet?

John Dellamora, who'd always been contemptuous of weakness in others and in himself, now dependent upon breathing oxygen through a nose piece. Watching me sidelong as I approached his bed bearing a bouquet of white carnations in my trembling hand.

"Daddy? It's Lili Rose ... "

When the hospice nurse took me aside and said, If there's some bitterness between you and your father now's the time to make it up, later will be too late, I said right away, "That's up to my father, I think." Everything was up to him. God damn if I'd say I was sorry when I was not sorry.

I think Daddy knows me. Sometimes. Still he stiffens as if he's afraid I might touch him, and moves his head in a tight little nod when I speak to him, though I can feel him staring at me, at my back, when I leave the room, and always I'm thinking he's going to call me back in his old teasing voice -- Hey Curly Red, c'mon! Let's make it up.

Curly Red. That name I haven't heard from anyone's lips in twenty-seven years.

I'm waiting. I'm certain that hour will come.

We were Mariana, and Rick, and Emily, and Leo, and Mario, and Johnny Jr., and Lili Rose. Daddy would stare at us in disgust, picking at his teeth with a silver toothpick. "Christ! Looks like a platoon." He was proud of us and loved us, though. Most of the time.

We lived in a large wood-frame house Daddy made sure was always painted and in good repair, front and back lawns mowed, sidewalk shoveled in winter. There was a tall red maple in front that turned fiery and splendid in October. Our house was at the dead end of Crescent Avenue, above the Niagara River. It was a steep dizzy drop to the riverbank. Cliffs on both sides were exposed shale that always looked wet, sharp. Beyond the dead end was a no-man's-land of scrub trees and thistles and sumac that flamed up in early autumn, where young kids played. It was a dangerous playing area, if you lost your footing. The view of the river from our house was beautiful, I guess. A river you see every day, from the window of your own room, you take for granted until one day it's gone from you. I cried a lot when I was sent away.

But the river got into my dreams. Wide, and glittery like fish scales, always choppy like a living thing restless beneath its skin. Miles away the thunderous Falls like a nightmare. Always there was a wind, and in winter the air could freeze your eyelashes together in a few seconds. There was that morning in December you'd wake to see the river had frozen, turned to black ice.

I had a happy childhood in that house. Nobody can take that from me.

This clipping from the Perrysburg Journal I saved until it was so dry it fell to pieces in my fingers. An obituary beneath a two-inch-high photo of a shyly smiling black boy with a gap between two prominent front teeth.

Jadro Filer, 17. Resident of Bayside Street, Perrysburg. Varsity basketball at Perrysburg High School. Choir, Bible Baptist Church. Died in Perrysburg General Hospital, April 11, 1973, of severe head injuries following an attack early in the morning of April 9 by yet unidentified assailants as he was walking on Route 11. Survived by his mother, Ethel, his sisters, Louise and Ida, and his brothers, Tyrone, Medrick, and Herman. Services Monday at Bible Baptist Church.
I Am No One You Know
. Copyright © by Joyce Oates. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, and has been several times nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award, and the New York Times bestseller The Falls, which won the 2005 Prix Femina. Her most recent novel is A Book of American Martyrs. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.

Brief Biography

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

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I Am No One You Know 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This woman is the consummate short story writer. Not only can she write wonderful novels, but her prose is so fabulous, none of it goes to waste, even in the short story genre. Kirkus Reviews is a shameful discourse about the truly remarkable writing(s) of this equally remarkable woman.
Anonymous 10 months ago
Not bad.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book kept me reading well into the night. Every story sucked me in and made me care about the characters. I've even reread some of it, which is rare for me.
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