Brief Book Review: ‘I Am No One You Know’ by Joyce Carol Oates

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These stories have impact- when reading I suggest you wear your seat belt.

The only other short story collections I have enjoyed as much as this are those by Edgar Allen Poe and Kim Edwards’ Secrets Of A Fire King. That said, this collection by Joyce Carol Oates is a stand out winner.

The stories are told with an unnerving conviction. Oates effectively writes the muddled memory and confusion surrounding trauma.

 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.

Oates’ is masterful in building suspense and at leaving her readers yearning for more.  At the end of each story I found myself wanting to yell: “don’t leave me hanging like this!”

The primary theme is “othering”. In all the stories there is some “other, unknowable” person. There is the mentally unstable mother, the sexually threatening uncle, the serial killer, and the borderline man from death row. All these stories are narrated from the POV of a rather bland, normal character and focus on another character that is, in some way or another, taboo.

Recommendation: Everyone must read.

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