Review

Blood Mask

Joyce Carol Oates, writing as Lauren Kelly

A teenage girl is pulled from some underbrush in a remote wilderness park.

"Caucasian female approximately fifteen-to-eighteen, weight one hundred five, probable assault victim, needing medical attention, raving & delusional, schizophrenic/meth overdose."

When the victim can finally speak, she has a very chilling story to tell. She says she was abducted. She says that, as she was being dragged away, she heard her aunt Drewe screaming for help. Somehow, she herself survived, but what's left of her is badly damaged, maybe permanently and maybe more than anyone can guess. And the only sign of her aunt is her Jeep submerged under the rushing waters of the Shale River. So how did this happen? Or, the bigger question might be, what is it that happened?

Annemarie Straube's life changed forever when she came to live with her Aunt Drewe. First, it was her name. With Annemarie's father in prison and her mother in rehab, Drewe, in her determination to give Annemarie a new start, gave her a new name: Marta. But as Marta, Drewe's niece, Annemarie undergoes some radical alterations, not many of them positive. She regards her aunt with awe. She loves her aunt and savors every kind word she carelessly tosses her way. And she hates her aunt for the love she withholds from her.

Drewe Hildebrand, owner of the highly respected artists' colony Chateauguay Springs, is a real mover and shaker, a woman who can make or break reputations. What Drewe showcases in her gallery becomes the hot art of the day. But her world starts to slowly unravel with the appearance of a Scotsman possessing an exceptionally twisted mind. He sculpts a likeness of his model's head, draws enough blood to totally encase the image, then freezes it solid. The display of his "bio-art" causes a passionate stir among not only the art world but several radically zealous Christian groups. To some, the blood mask is a unique form of artistic expression. To others, it is the very definition of sacrilege. As usual, aunt Drewe cares not a whit about the opinions of others. The Scots artist is the current center of her focus. All else matters little to her. She might have fared better had she paid more attention.

Marta has lived through several of Aunt Drewe's flings. This one, though, sets Marta off with a vengeance that surprises even her. While some believed that Drewe Hildebrand was more than generous in bringing Marta to live with her, the truth is that Drewe could be highly unpredictable. At one moment, she could be a caring aunt, trying to school her unfortunate niece. In the next minute, she might turn brooding, flinging cruel epithets at Marta and pushing her away. Now Drewe is gone and Marta is fighting to recover.

The events of that one awful day remain locked inside Marta. As an unreliable witness, due to the quantity of drugs forced down her throat, her memory may be forever flawed. But, with Drewe Hildebrand still missing, the authorities interview and re-interview her in hopes of a breakthrough in the case. As the facts slowly come to light, the stunning conclusion reveals the extent of the psychological trauma that was inflicted and its dreadful consequences.

   

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on December 22, 2010

Blood Mask
Joyce Carol Oates, writing as Lauren Kelly

  • Publication Date: May 22, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0061119040
  • ISBN-13: 9780061119040