Daddy Love by Joyce Carol Oates

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Daddy Love by Joyce Carol Oates

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear
Summary: Once more, Joyce Carol Oates provides a dark and disturbing read, but one so accomplished in both style and emotional impact that you can't help but read on.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 286 Date: February 2013
Publisher: Head of Zeus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1781850657

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A short while ago, I read The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates and was moved by the sheer emotional impact of the stories it contained. This was especially true of the title story, which looked at the impact on a family torn by the disappearance of their daughter. The synopsis of Daddy Love suggested a similar impact, given the nature of the story and what I'd recently discovered about the power of Oates' writing.

Dinah and Whit Whitcomb are living happily with their 5 year old son Robbie in Michigan. Until one day at the Mall, Dinah is hit over the head and Robbie is snatched from her. Getting up to chase the van he was bundled into, she is run down by the kidnapper and left for dead. Robbie finds himself first locked in a box and then, when he is released, under the 'care' of Daddy Love.

Daddy Love is not a pleasant person, although he gives the impression of being so to the outside world, preaching at churches as Pastor Cash and being polite to everyone he meets. But when he and Robbie, now renamed Gideon, are alone, things are less pleasant. Daddy Love maintains discipline by locking him back in a restrictive coffin-like box and if his brand of 'love' were properly named, our main character would be called Daddy Rape.

As with much of Oates' writing, the story touches on human fears and the worst of human nature and it's not always comfortable reading. But, also in common with much of Oates' writing, as disturbing as you may find the content of the story, it's so compellingly told that I could not turn away. This is the written equivalent of a horror film that you watch through your hands, not wanting to see the gore, but unable to stop watching.

Oates' writing has two main features that make the reader feel this way. The first is the sheer emotional impact of the writing that makes you feel every situation. The smooth malevolence of Daddy Love seems to ooze from the page and even just reading about someone so disgusting made me feel dirty. The heat of Gideon's rage as he grows older and more rebellious burns from the page like one of his arson attacks and whilst his actions may be understandable in his circumstances, the heat feels feverish as if he were infected by some of the things Daddy Love put him through.

The other feature was the sheer style the story is presented in. The opening chapters repeat early events over and over as the kidnapping occurs. Whilst this felt a little confusing at first, I soon realised that they were the events as recounted by Dinah's mind as it was still reeling from the shock of events. This noticed, I couldn't help but admire the quality of both the thinking and the execution in this part of the novel.

If there was one down side, I felt it was in the ending. It may well have been realistic in a case such as this and may well mirror a real child abduction case, but it didn't seem to quite fit in with much of what had come before. It was still a well written and emotionally expressed section of the novel, but after all that had come before I struggled a little to adjust to the change of pace and direction that resulted.

However, all that has come before was so good that this slightly weaker ending didn't spoil the book, it just took some of the edge away from it. Fans of Joyce Carol Oates' work will certainly enjoy Daddy Love, as it's well in keeping with her usual style and quality of writing. It may be a little too dark for readers not used to the genre, although those that have read stories of abuse like Anorexic by Anna Paterson or the work of Dave Pelzer could be more used to this kind of story and may find this both a realistic and well-written example of that story, even as fictional as it is.

Joyce Carol Oates is an author worth reading more of and I strongly recommend The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares. We can also recommend The Triumph of the Spider Monkey by Joyce Carol Oates.

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