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Man Crazy

Man Crazy

3.5 6
by Joyce Carol Oates

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Fresh from the triumph of the bestselling We Were the Mulvaneys, Joyce Carol Oates continues her exploration of family love and possibilities of human redemption with this compelling story of how one young woman suffers profoundly in the pursuit of love, but manages to emerge safe and whole.

Set in several towns on the Chatauqua River in upstate New York


Fresh from the triumph of the bestselling We Were the Mulvaneys, Joyce Carol Oates continues her exploration of family love and possibilities of human redemption with this compelling story of how one young woman suffers profoundly in the pursuit of love, but manages to emerge safe and whole.

Set in several towns on the Chatauqua River in upstate New York, Man Crazy tells the story of Ingrid Boone, who at age eight is taken into hiding by her beautiful young mother, Chloe. Sought by the men who have taunted Chloe, the authorities, and Ingrid's loving but volatile father still haunted by memories of Vietnam, Ingrid and her mother fight to survive both together and apart. "Man crazy" is the label assigned to teenage Ingrid, whose desperate need to find a substitute for her father's affection makes her easy prey for the charismatic leader of a violent cult. Eventually, the police surround the cult compound and a tense standoff erupts in bullets and flames. Ingrid escapes to rebuild her life, and Oates' depiction of this severely damaged young woman's slow but miraculous process of healing stands as one of the most brilliant portraits she has ever created. Oates' gift for haunting imagery reaches new heights in this emotionally resonant work.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Hypnotic and powerful. Man Crazy will take you on a dark and wild ride."
Washington Post

"Unlike anything Joyce Carol Oates has written before."
Atlanta Journal

"Flawlessly written and haunting. … Man Crazy demonstrates a distinctly American faith in the tenacious human spirit."
Chicago Tribune

Elizabeth Judd

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

Chicago Tribune
A major acheivement that stands...as a testament to the restorative power of love and the capacity to endure and prevail.
San Francisco Chronicle
A grand symphonic novel...one of Oates' finest efforts.
NY Times Book Review
What keeps us coming back to Oates Country is her uncanny gift of making the page a window, with something happening on the other side that we'd swear was life itself.
LA Times Book Review
New testimony to Oates' great intelligence and dead-on imaginative powers. It is a book that will break your heart, heal it, then break it again every time you think about it.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Narrator Ingrid Boone tells the story of her desperate, unbalanced young life in one long, breathless monologue, behind which the alert reader may hear echoes of such popular classics of mental illness as The Bell Jar and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. Despite a few stock characters and gaudy plot flourishes, however, this harrowing tale by the prolific Oates (following the well-received We Were the Mulvaneys) crackles with dramatic intensity punctuated by beautiful turns of phrase. Ingrid is the daughter of sometimes loving but erratically violent parents. Her sluttish mother, Chloe, hangs on to her sanity by a thread, while her dashing but brutal pilot father, whom she rarely sees, is a fugitive from the law. The instability and neglect of her childhood leave Ingrid emotionally dissociated; only the contempt and torture she seeks and endures from the many men in her life make her feel alive. Late in the novel, it strikes her with the force of mystical revelation that she could learn to feel real when she is not in pain. Ingrid's story careens wildly through the back roads of rural New York, where she and her mother go into hiding, and where she first hears ghost voices. Later, there is her teenaged promiscuity, drinking and drug use as she searches for masculine love, even as she writes poetry and tries to find a norm for her existence. By the time of her catastrophic involvement with the leader of a Satanist biker cult, a walking tabloid headline who calls her "Dog-girl," she is teetering on the edge of sanity. The bizarre twists and turns of Ingrid's life take on a hallucinatory intensity, but the one constant of the gripping storythe emotional deprivation that has scarred Ingrid for lifecomes through with a fierce, burning clarity.
Library Journal
Ingrid Boone and her too-young momma, Chloe, live a hard-bitten life on New York's Chautauqua River as they flee Luke, a Vietnam vet who fathered Ingrid. The mostly no-account men who people Chloe's boozy existence pale beside crazed Luke, who keeps tracking down his family. Little wonder that Ingrid grows into a self-destructive adolescent, sinking into a morass of drugs and self-mutilation, believing that the path to love is lots of pain. Under the thrall of the cult leader of a motorcycle gang, Ingrid suffers a downward spiral that is nearly complete when she is gang-raped, forced to witness a decapitation, then imprisoned in a filthy basement with nothing to eat but garbage and animal waste. At the end, Oates...asks readers to believe that two years of hospitalization and intensive therapy bring Ingrid miraculous redemption and true love in the arms of her much older former psychiatrist. An ugly tale told, without question, by a master of evocative misery, but to what purpose? For Oates fans only.
Kirkus Reviews
Oates' 27th novel, following fast on the heels of last year's highly praised We Were the Mulvaneys, revisits the depressed upstate New York environs of her earliest (and perhaps most typical) fiction.

It's the first-person story of 21-year-old Ingrid Boone, a small-town girl who has survived her estranged parents' rootlessness and chaotic behavior, a drug- and sex-addicted adolescence, and her captivity as the slavelike "Dog-girl" of a violent, messianic biker who rules a cult called "Satan's Children." The narrative proceeds through a succession of dreamlike short scenes that replay Ingrid's sometimes discontinuous (though mainly chronological) memories and fantasies. Ingrid is a generously imagined and vividly realized character: The deprivations and self-hatred that set her on her self-destructive path are rendered with savage clarity, and Oates makes us believe that she's also a bright, sensitive girl who seeks imaginative refuge from her traumatizing circumstances by writing poetry. The characterizations of her mother Chloe, a weak-willed beauty who'll do anything to survive, and her father Luke, a Vietnam fighter pilot who knows he can't escape his violent nature ("I'm shit in the eyes of God"), are equally compelling—as is Oates's presentation of their helpless, mutually destructive love. But the novel has flaws, including occasionally slack writing and careless anachronisms. And in the character of the sexually charismatic cultist Enoch Skaggs, Oates draws another of the unconvincingly feverish caricatures that mar several of her more portentous stories. Nor does it seem necessary to spell out the source of Ingrid's sociopathic downward progression ("Crazy for men they say it's really your own daddy you seek").

Nevertheless, as in Mulvaneys, Oates shows us the paradoxical resilience that sustains people who endure more than we can imagine, and somehow hang on. Her boldly drawn grotesques reach out to us, making us believe in them and care about their fates.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.36(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Hypnotic and powerful. Man Crazy will take you on a dark and wild ride."
Washington Post

"Unlike anything Joyce Carol Oates has written before."
Atlanta Journal

"Flawlessly written and haunting. … Man Crazy demonstrates a distinctly American faith in the tenacious human spirit."
Chicago Tribune

Meet the Author

In addition to many prize-winning and bestselling novels, including We Were the Mulvaneys, Black Water, Because It Is Bitter and Because It Is My Heart, and Broke Heart Blues, Joyce Carol Oates is the author of a number of works of gothic fiction including Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque, a World Fantasy Award nominee; and Zombie, winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Best Horror Novel, awarded by the Horror Writers' Association. In 1994, Oates received the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award in Horror Fiction. She is the editor of American Gothic Tales. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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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Man Crazy 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Joyce Carol Oates, an unfamiliar author to me, did an implausible job at describing her characters' thought process, feelings, and actions. Unfortunately the actions and thoughts of the characters are very striking and dissolute. I found that the pattern of the plot in this novel was like a steep declining slope. Ingrid, the main character of Man Crazy showed no standards or conscience. I struggled with this type of literature because, yes the book may have been realistic and appealing, but I read to get away from the realistic world. Man Crazy did not teach good ethics or proper decision making skills. Joyce Carol Oates did not provide a main character to act as a role model for her readers. If she was, then her lesson was pre-marriage sex is okay. She taught that education is stupid and not worth the time and that drugs are appealing and solve your problems. She taught that abuse is normal and after all of this, your life will turn out on the right track. I am not going to totally bash on Joyce Carol Oates writing. She was superior in showing the pattern of cause and effect, action and reaction, and mistake and punishment. I can honestly say I when reading this piece of writing I felt like I was in Ingrid's situation and environment because of Oates eloquent style. When down reading a portion of Man Crazy my sentiment and emotions would depend on what had just happened in the novel. I also have to applaud Oates for her originality of Man Crazy. Her storyline opened my eyes of how there are a lot worse trials and life conditions than mine. Oates proved to me that the events that occurred in this story happen all the time to regular people . . . maybe not all the events to one person but she showed that the world isn't perfect and simple. In the end I would have to say that I would not recommend this book to just anyone. It takes maturity to accept the choices Ingrid and other characters make in Man Crazy. Fantasy lovers or adventure and action seekers would not enjoy this book. If you take pleasure in romance or realistic fiction you could probably read this book without having too much problems with it.
Maenad More than 1 year ago
Ingrid learns abandonment from men at a young age when her father flees from from murder charges, leaving her and her mother behind. She is plagued childlike fantasies of her father and self mutilation. Oates' most powerful writing prevails in a deftly crafted scene of Ingrid's poetic presentation at a high school assembly, which also serves as Ingrid's turning point. A string of self deprecating affairs climaxes with the leader of a Satanic cult, ultimately shaping the novel's outcome.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely reccommend reading this book as it was entirely realistic and unpredictable. You didn't know where Oates was taking you next. We follow Ingrid from dysfunctional semi tragic child life through teen years of sex drugs and abuse and finally, the redemption of a life gone wrong gotten back still with only semi normalcy. A well written page turning novel by a literary phenomenon.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a really great story that kept me turning the pages. I was hooked from the beginning. I finished this book in a few days. Some of abuse scenes were very graphic but the ending made up for it. I cant wait to read more of her books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
JCO is my favorite author, but I found this novel lacking. I found it too violent and I couldn't connect to the main character. I recommend reading her other books: A Garden of Earthly Delights, Them, and We Were the Mulvaney's.
Guest More than 1 year ago
JCO was recommended on a list of well known contemporary American authors, and now I can certainly see why. She has the outstanding abililty to realistically describe a person at his or her lowest point. Yes this novel could have been better, and yes it was a little overwhelming when it came to the sex and abuse, but the fact that it was so vivid in diction was what struck me the hardest. JCO'S creative narrative style of Ingrid, it's flashbacks and suddens crashes into the present, force you to stay alert to the novel.