GIVE ME YOUR HEART by Joyce Carol Oates

Book Quote:

“He had appealed to the officer who had discharged him. Don’t send me back to them. I am not ready to return to them yet. I can’t live with civilians. I am afraid that I will hurt civilians. The Lance Corporal was asked why would he hurt civilians of his own kind who loved him and the Lance Corporal said Because that is the only way to stop them loving me sir.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody  (JAN 17, 2011)

Give Me Your Heart, the newest collection of short stories by Joyce Carol Oates, shimmers with violence, actual or imagined. Reading these stories is like hearing footsteps in your home when you know you’re the only one there. They’re like seeing something impossible out of the corner of your eye and being sure that you’ve seen it no matter what your rational self tells you. The stories make your heart race and your eyes open wide in horror. They do not come to us gently. Joyce Carol Oates grabs the reader and pulls him into her unique vision where fear, panic, tension, death, love and murder prevail, often simultaneously. These are horror stories without any element of the super-natural. She’s the real McCoy of this genre.

This collection contains ten stories, many of them about the dark side of needing love. In “Give Me Your Heart,” we hear an ex-lover rant about wanting her lover’s heart – actually and metaphorically. We listen to her as she goes more and more around the bend. In “Split/Brain,” Trudy Gould has been caretaker for her ill husband day and night, spending all her time at the hospital. One day, he demands that she return home to get a journal that he forgot. When she arrives at her home, she recognizes her sister’s car parked there and imagines her troubled, drug-addled and violent nephew in her house. She plays out this scenario in head: she either enters the house and is killed by her nephew or she turns and leaves. What will her choice be?

Some of these stories deal with the obsessive character of love or the feeling that you don’t really know the person you love. In “The First Husband,” a married man stumbles across photos of his wife with her first husband. He can’t get over his jealousy and believes that his wife is hiding something from him. He becomes obsessed with her first husband and this leads to tragic consequences.

The theme that love is dangerous is apparent in almost every story. In “Strip Poker,” a group of older men in their twenties get a fourteen year-old girl to go with them to their lake cabin. They get her drunk and play strip poker with her. The game is tense and on the verge of becoming dangerous. How the girl turns events to her favor is a joy to behold in all its poignancy. In “Smothered,” a troubled woman with a history of drug addiction and rootlessness has recovered memories of her parents smothering and killing a baby girl. This memory is part of a sensational murder case that occurred in 1974. The smothered child was never identified and the murderer was never found. When the police come to question the woman’s mother, she is shocked. The memory appears to be part of a drug-addled incident in the daughter’s teen-aged years. However, the mother feels torn and betrayed as this is just another way her estranged daughter has turned against her.

Sometimes, the most dangerous person is the one that is closest to you. In “The Spill,” John Henry is what we’d now call developmentally disabled or chronically mentally ill. When he is an adolescent, he is brought to live at his uncle’s home as his mother can no longer handle him. It is 1951 and there is no such thing as special education in the rural Adirondacks where this story takes place. John Henry, after repeating fourth grade, is told he can’t return to school. His uncle has him doing difficult farm chores all day. His aunt Lizabeta has a special connection with John Henry while also being very leery of him with her own children. Her emotions start to get twisted up inside her.

“Bleed” is my favorite story in the collection. A boy evolves from closeness with his parents to distance. He leaves his childhood behind him. This is due to two distinct incidents, both involving child abductions and rapes. His parents question him about these incidents, of which he has no knowledge. However, these images continue to haunt him and, as a young man, he finds himself caught up in a nightmare situation consisting of rape and abduction.

These are not stories for the fragile or weak-hearted among us. They are all scary and they all play on our visceral fears and nightmares. Joyce Carol Oates is a master of this. She understands those things we all fear, the nightmares that are common to us all. That these stories do not contain elements of the super-natural is not comforting. It makes them all the more frightening.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 26 readers
PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (January 7, 2011)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Joyce Carol Oates
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read reviews of more Joyce Carol Oates books:




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January 17, 2011 · Judi Clark · 2 Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Horror, Psychological Suspense, Short Stories, y Award Winning Author

2 Responses

  1. poornima - January 17, 2011

    Hi Bonnie:

    Thanks for a wonderful review. My older daughter recently read the short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates and it completely freaked her out. She said it was the spookiest story she has read–not in terms of gore or blood or any of that but in just making sure the stories are compelling and believable but just so ever off. After that we all read it and found that story and others, compelling. An excerpt from her nonfiction memoir was just published in the New Yorker and that is worth a read as well. Thanks!

  2. brody - January 18, 2011

    Poornima, Thanks for your comment. It made my day. I have the New Yorker that has her article in it and I’ll be sure to read it. Bonnie

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