Monday, November 18, 2013

Book Review: The Museum of Dr. Moses by Joyce Carol Oates

The Museum of Dr. Moses

Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Date of Publication: August 4, 2008
Pages: 240 (Trade Paperback Edition)

     The Museum of Dr. Moses is a collection of ten stories written by Joyce Carol Oates over a number of years and published in various literary and mystery magazines.  They all are very eloquent pieces of writing with superb descriptions and character developments, even within the confines of the genre (short fiction).  Each story contains a macabre character (or two) who carom through the lives of more or less sane folks around them.   I read this book while vacationing at the Outer Banks during the week of Halloween.  The beach was deserted and the northern beaches were dark and quiet.  This was the perfect book to read that week!

     Many of the stories channel the energy and madness of Edgar Allan Poe.  Valentine, July Heat Wave resonates with the horror of The Telltale Heart.  The final story in the collection, The Museum of Dr. Moses is as horrific as any penned by Poe.  There are several stories which study serial killers and their psyche, including Dr. Moses, Hi, Howya' Doin'? and Bad Habits.  

     The author does a masterful job of examining the effects these depraved characters have on their families, co-workers and even innocent strangers.  The best example of this is in Suicide Watch, where a father confronts his imprisoned son who may or may not have killed his own son.  Meeting with his son in a court-mandated psychiatric hospital, the father realizes what his son is capable of:  "There was something wrong with the son's eyes, set deep in their sockets, bloodshot, with a peculiar smudged glare like worn-out Plexiglass."  Another story which hones in on this ripple effect is The Man Who Fought Roland Le Strange.  In this story a boxer loses his big fight which leads to a downward spiral in his personal life.  His best friend sorts through the wreckage of both of their lives. 

     This is a strong collection of stories for which the reader needs to be in the right frame of mind.  Like Poe, Joyce Carol Oates shocks the reader by presenting characters who appear fairly normal on the surface but have a macabre inner core which most never see.  In particular, it's hard to forget Dr. Moses.

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