I buy books. And sometimes I read them. This blog is for the times when I do more than just store shelf candy.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I Flipped the Pages of Joyce Carol Oates' Zombie

Bought: July 8, 2008 from Book Sale for PhP40
Read: November 28, 2009
ISBN: 0452275008
Published by Plume/Penguin, 1996
My copy is a well-loved trade paperback with creases on the spine and dog-ears on the covers.

Reason for Buying: I collect Oates because my book snob friend, Naomi, says she does not like her. She also does not like Oprah Book Club books, but I don't collect those.

Reason for Reading: I was challenged to read any work of Joyce Carol Oates. This one was one of the thinnest. I'm on time pressure here.

Zombie is the diary of a serial killer. A very sick serial killer. To be fair, he really does not intend to kill his victims. He really just wants them to be his sex slaves. They just happen to have the misfortune of dying while he not-so-nimbly inserts an ice pick through the bony orbit above their eyeballs.

To divulge more about the story is to deprive you of the sheer glee (insert sarcastic emoticon) of discovering the depravity of its main character, Quentin. To divulge more is to relive the gruesome bits of this nasty, nasty novel and to go back inside the mind of a sexual psychopath. And I'm not keen on going back there. Surprisingly, though, I should probably have been more disgusted than I was. Though there were times, when I had to lay the book down, shake my head, and stop my mind's eye from imagining too much; more often I read with an unexpected detachment.

If you're squeamish and easily disturbed, this is not for you. On the other hand, it is pretty light reading as far as psycho-thrillers go.

I'm still figuring out if I like the book. It's enthralling reading, I must say. But if Nabokov's Lolita and Suskind's Perfume are the standards for novels that get you inside sick minds, then this pales by miles. It does not have the heft and depth of plot and characterization that enable Humbert Humbert (Lolita) and Grenouille (Perfume) to get under the reader's skin, to inspire strong emotions. Quentin's character is developed well enough; his motivations are made quite clear,
but as the novel makes him to be this ordinary-looking person, he comes across as rather ordinary for readers already jaded by Silence of the Lambs and too many CSI episodes. In the end, the story just does not discombobulate me as much as I think it should. Maybe because Oates writes in a tempered way that does not sensationalize. I like that the banality of narration is free from any attempt to manipulate. That's supposed to be a good thing; right?

I read this book as part of a reading challenge. The challenge was to simply read a book by Joyce Carol Oates. This work is probably not the best representation of Oates' body of work. Because it is narrated by the character, it uses crude, almost infantile language -- styled by Oates with weird punctuation and a lot of capitalized words. As such, it does not reveal Oates' prose, which I am curious to read more of. Though this book does not make me a fan, I would still be interested to read her other books.

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