It is truly thrilling for a short story lover to be aware of
Joyce Carol Oates and her ability to write the perfect short story.
Contained in this amazing collection is 14 of them. Most
importantly, she propels the reader into a blissful state, lost
completely in the characters, dialogue and world of her storylines.
Many of these tales possess themes of leaving a family or family
The first story, “Panic,” is both frightening and
heart-rending. It starts with the simplest of opening lines:
“He knows this fact: It was a school bus.” You will be
hooked by the end of the first paragraph and will find yourself
reading faster and faster, devouring each sentence quickly while
not missing a single word.
The most fascinating story is “A Princeton Idyll,”
which ironically was published originally in The Yale
Review. Through letters to her grandparents’ maid, a
now-43-year-old woman attempts to discover truths about her
grandfather and his association with great minds of our time, such
as Albert Einstein. You will not be able to help but reminisce
about aspects of your life and memories of pleasant times spent
with your grandparents. However, there is an underlying, ominous
theme here that gets under your skin. Oates’s incredible
ability to tantalize readers with foreshadowing is legend. Hidden
agendas, tidbits of juicy gossip and hurt feelings pervade these
letters as well.
Although some of these entries are painful, deliberate and
caustic, we are treated to the rare humorous story, like
“Dear Joyce Carol.” I won’t give away the
character description, but I will “leak” the scenario.
Oates visits Boise, Idaho, on a book tour recently. A man who is
unable to attend her talk writes to her through her publisher. All
he wants is for her to autograph the picture that he cut out of the
newspaper. He assumes that she will want to get to know him and his
amazing life story, resulting in a novel --- and then a screenplay
--- about his life. “We are Strangers across a thousand
miles, and more, & how anxious I am, to hear from
you.”… “Hoping to hear from you very soon, your
Special Friend.” We learn more about him in each letter, as
he becomes more anxious about receiving a response and that coveted
autograph. This darkly humorous story is reminiscent of the
writings of Stephen King.
The reader sees, somewhat quickly, that although someone might
still be with another family member, they indeed have left them, or
have been absent spiritually or emotionally. It can be a husband
and wife, a mother and son, a father and daughter, or a sibling.
The reader searches for a link and finds it, but not easily in some
cases. In each and every case, though, it is certainly worth the
hunt. DEAR HUSBAND is an extremely satisfying read.
Reviewed by Marge Fletcher on December 29, 2010