Something isn’t quite right.
The world is tilting and it feels … off. Nothing makes sense, nothing aligns with anything else right now. You’re discombobulated, and it’s surreal. And with “Night Gaunts and Other Tales of Suspense,” a short-story collection by Joyce Carol Oates, you’ll be even more unsettled.
It’s 11 a.m.
It’s always 11 a.m. for her, as she sits in the nude and waits for him. She has to wait; he told her so, but sometimes he doesn’t arrive and she’s never allowed to ask why because he’d be angry and she can’t afford her life without his money. She hates him for it, but she can’t live without him and in “The Woman in the Window,” she may kill him.
Unless, of course, he kills her first.
Elinor Stockman is sure that her husband, Victor, is cheating on her with that college student Elinor keeps seeing around town, the one who seemed to be Victor’s favorite last semester. When the girl called to ask if she could bring a little gift for Victor to the house, Elinor knew it was time to act. Surely, “The Long-Legged Girl” would like a spot of tea when she arrives. But who’ll get the cup with the poison?
L was once a runner. He was on the track team, but that was before cancer and surgery and a colostomy that made him feel disfigured and disgusted. In “Walking Wounded,” though, his love may have returned. He needs to follow her, he must find out — but first, he must finish the disturbing manuscript he was hired to edit.
Horace Phineas Love Sr. never wanted anything to do with his son, Horace Phineas Love Jr., who was but a boy when his father died. Love, Jr., was giddy at the death, but then “the night-gaunts” began to appear. They were horrible things, unspeakable, and they tormented the boy into manhood. And then, when Love, Jr.’s mother died, another apparition arrived, and it looked much too familiar.
So you say you like your stories and your TV shows started, told, and tied up in a nice bow within an hours’ time. You can forget about that whole thing with “Night Gaunts,” however. No, this book is going to make you say, “Wait. What?”
That’s because the squirms that author Joyce Carol Oates leaves behind are just that — left behind. The story ends, you turn the page, and go about your business. But, as if it’s rubber-banded to the book, your mind will return again and again to each of these six tales to turn those squirms around and examine them anew. Yes, you’re hanging, but in the most exquisite way. No, the stories don’t make sense, until you’re to a certain point. Wait. What?
These stories are reminiscent of tales from the 1950s. They nod to your old-time favorites but they don’t tie up neat, so if you need a hard-and-solid ending to your fiction, read something else. If you love a good by-your-fingernails story, though, “Night Gaunts” could be just right.