The Museum of Doctor Moses by Joyce Carol Oates

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The Museum of Doctor Moses by Joyce Carol Oates

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A very smart package of gloomy stories for when the evenings close in. How can things so dark be written about so brightly, one asks oneself.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: October 2008
Publisher: Quercus Publishing Plc
ISBN: 978-1847245595

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In a one-sentence rush, we get an entire short story, starring various joggers, that proves above all else that words can kill. It's a moral bluntly put, and as an opener to the volume puts us instantly on a nervous edge. We might not be in for the happiest read, we think, before turning to the second story, which is called Suicide Watch.

This one has a man worrying about, and visiting, his son, whose partner and young infant child would appear to have fled violence, or anger, or drugs, something anyway, and seem to be missing. It's a tale that clearly shreds the minds of the characters, if not the reader too. Clipped, brutal sentences are to the fore here, readying us perhaps for the third, and longest, story of the ten, which features a boxer who, we are immediately told, among other defeats takes his own life.

The fourth story is harder to 'get' immediately, and again features death. By now the theme of the volume does not need stressing.

It was a surprise for me when the reviewing gods sent me something described by the publishers as a masterpiece, only for me to find it was a collection of short stories. Yet I cannot think of a book of small fictions that concentrates in so defined a way on a recurring mood, theme and pessimism outside the fantasy, sci-fi and horror anthologies I used to turn to. And make no mistake, everything is sustained, from the authority of the authoress as she explores her various senses of evil, to more or less a superlative standard.

All the works in here have been published before, and it is no surprise, when meeting the story Feral, with its revisiting of changeling tales in a sort of late-period Ballard style, to see it was first in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. But on the whole we leave genre categories behind – while I must credit the title story with revisiting Gothic fairy tales to some extent, and one is subtitled a mystery (and so it shall remain – I'm not sure what happens here as the punchline), we are firmly in the realms of a literary style of fiction, that with an inestimable quality of never repeating itself, covers a mood, a moral ground, a darkness, that appeals to this reader.

I couldn't think to recommend it to the depressed, but for anyone else this is of a seriously good, readable quality. The second time the one-sentence story comes up is with much less impact than the first, and I'm not sure as I say about titles four and eight, but elsewhere we have a very classy book. I know of some people who would find the bluntness of the confessionals and so on included here hard to swallow, but on the whole there is nothing to churn the stomach, or make one regret visiting these pages. It is a dark place, as I keep repeating, but one we are very grateful Ms Oates goes to regularly.

This is a volume that has opened my eyes to this author, who I would eagerly read more of. We at the Bookbag are very grateful Quercus sent us a review copy.

Here at Bookbag we've also enjoyed Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black by Nadine Gordimer and The People on Privilege Hill by Jane Gardam.

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Buy The Museum of Doctor Moses by Joyce Carol Oates at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Museum of Doctor Moses by Joyce Carol Oates at


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