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A Fair Maiden: A dark novel of suspense [Hardcover]

Joyce Carol Oates
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

7 Jan 2010
Fifteen-year-old Katya Spivak is out for a walk on the gracious streets of Bayhead Harbor, New Jersey, with her two summer babysitting charges when she is approached by silver-haired, elegant Marcus Kidder. At first his interest in her seems harmless, even pleasant; like his name, a sort of gentle joke. His beautiful home, the children's books that he has written, his classical music, the fine art in his study, his lavish gifts to her: Mr. Kidder's life couldn't be more different from Katya's drab working class existence back home - or more enticing. But by degrees, almost imperceptibly, something changes, and posing for Mr Kidder's new painting isn't the light-hearted endeavour it once was. What does he really want from her? And how far will he go to get it? This spare, chilling novel shows Joyce Carol Oates at the height of her powers as a literary storyteller.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Quercus (7 Jan 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847248586
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847248589
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 22.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 641,369 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including 'We Were the Mulvaneys', which was an Oprah Book Club Choice, and 'Blonde', which was nominated for the National Book Award. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Princeton University.

Product Description

Review

Joyce Carol Oates is a genius - Guardian

One of the female front runners for the title of Great American Novelist - Sunday Times

Oates captures perfectly the moment where innocence gives way to experience' Mail on Sunday.

From the Inside Flap

A gripping tale of suspense in which an elderly aristocrat forms an obsession with a young girl. Fifteen-year-old Katya Spivak is out for a walk on the gracious streets of Bayhead Harbor with her two summer babysitting charges when she is approached by silver-haired, elegant Marcus Kidder. At first his interest in her seems harmless, even pleasant; like his name, a sort of gentle joke. His beautiful home, the children's books that he has written, his classical music, the fine art in his study, his lavish gifts to her: Mr Kidder's life couldn't be more different from Katya's drab working class existence back home in South Jersey - or more enticing. Katya cannot help but respond to what he offers. But by degrees, almost imperceptibly, something changes, and posing for Mr Kidder's new painting isn't the light-hearted endeavour it once was. What does he really want from her? And how far will he go to get it? This spare, chilling novel shows Joyce Carol Oates on top form as a master of suspense and in incomparable literary storyteller.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
By Suzie
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Joyce Carol Oates is one of a handful of highly rated American authors whose work I usually enjoy, but after finding her `Middle Age: A Romance' somewhat tedious I was unsure whether to bother with this book.

Katya, a fifteen-year-old from a poor area of New Jersey and working as a live-in nanny for wealthy parents during the summer holidays, meets Marcus Kidder, an elegant, ageing artist with a spacious house overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. His attentions both attract and repulse her.

The novel starts in a gentle, almost deceptively harmless way, but there is always the hint of possible menace. I'd hardly describe it, though, as a `novel of dark suspense' - the description on the front cover. Even so, as the end approaches, it's obvious something must be about to happen, but what that something is came as a surprise (at least it did to me, although looking back, there were intimations whose significance I had failed to register). Not quite a twist, a little shocking perhaps, and morally topical.

The viewpoint is Katya's and, even though the book is quite short, her character is well developed. The novel covers only a few weeks, but the author slowly feeds aspects of Katya's background into the story, so that she builds into a more rounded person, someone you feel you could get to know and understand even if you can't always like her. The style is fluent and easy, and descriptive without being fussy or flowery.

It's not the best book I've ever read but it's worth a read, unless you're looking for a fast-paced thriller in which case you'll be disappointed. I'd probably give it 7 out of 10 if that were a choice, so I've erred on the mean side and given it 3 stars. I still find the ending disturbing, a little repulsive even. Just trying to imagine myself in the place of that young girl renders the old gent, Marcus Kidder, even more creepy. It just wasn't a 4-star read for me. Read it and see what you think.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful tale 29 Jun 2011
By Freckles VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
Another beautiful novel by Ms Oates. She has this wonderful talent of lulling you in to a false sense of security as you read. Just when you think all is well........suddenly it most certainly isn't. Her prose is second to none and I loved this book and the way it distinguishes between youth and old age....together with differences in the social "classes".
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hardly suspenseful and entirely predictable 22 Sep 2011
Format:Paperback
A magnificent writer, but this feels like an idea that ran out of steam for me. Whilst the character of Katya is reasonably well drawn most of the others are comical and thin on credibility. I couldn't get a handle on Marcus Kidder and rather than reading like a gothic fairytale the Kidder character (a dame and a luvvie of the worst order) rendered it into a pantomime.

I found the prose fey and difficult to grasp in some places. It may have been intended but it didn't work for me and I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone as an introduction to the author when there are far, far superior books in her collection. It's a shame that so many journals and newspapers will effuse and gush over every work an author produces. Very misleading in this case as far as I'm concerned.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully crafted 2 Feb 2010
Format:Hardcover
Suzie's 3 stars are indeed mean!

I thoroughly enjoyed it. It doesn't pretend to be a thriller nor does it say it is. Although the pace is by no means slow, it's stready enough to build a picture of the protagonists without losing it's suspense. A subtle suspense but no less exciting.

Joyce Carol Oates has very adeptly captured the mind of a teenage girl when presented with the attention of an older man (even if quite old in this case).
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not one of her best 15 Jan 2011
By Felis
Format:Paperback
If you are new to JCO I suggest you put this one aside for later when you fall in love with her writing sufficiently to like her 'odds and evens'. As happens to many very prolific writers in an advanced stage of their career there is the occasional dud. They tend to be alternating with very good work. For short story haters, I suggest to put prejudice aside and reach for Sourland, also a recent one, and a masterpiece collection. A Fair Maiden, in my reading, is hastily put together and there is no suspense and it is not dark. In fact, there is very little there at all. But I still worship Joyce Carol Oates.
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Format:Paperback
A very slight book, too short to be called a novel. The two protagonists, Katya Spivak and Marcus Kidder, do not engage much sympathy, and the play of ambivalence is not enough to keep their meetings from being pretty boring, nor is the dark hint that something nasty might have happened to Mr Kidder’s former model. Is he just a creepy old man for whom painting Katya's portrait is just an excuse to lech at a minor (she’s 16), or does he really love her? Does she love him - is she even capable of knowing whether she does? Or is she in it just for the money. I simply didn’t like or care enough about any of them to feel engaged. There are caricatural minor characters: her gambler father and her tarty mother, her cold, mean employer, and the brutal Roy Mraz. I found myself longing to finish the book, to get it over with, and the fairy story aspect of it left me cold. (The wig, by the way, was simply an unnecessary cruelty).
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not up to standard 30 May 2014
By Amanda Jenkinson TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
Whilst working as a summer nanny, 15-year old Katya meets elderly Marcus Kidder, an elegant, urbane and wealthy writer and artist who quickly becomes obsessed by her, as she in turn becomes fascinated by him.
The comparison with Nabokov is inevitable, especially as Katya, like Lolita, is both innocent and street-wise, just as Kidder is both loving and predatory. But this is more than a simplistic tale of an old man preying on a young girl. It is a skilful exploration of moral ambiguity where the boundaries between good and evil, between the predator and the prey, are blurred, and although the novel starts gently and quietly it is soon pervaded by a sense of menace - although it is hardly the "tale of dark suspense" the cover tells us it is.
I found the book absorbing and compelling, but ultimately somewhat unsatisfactory as at times the imagery is a little heavy-handed and the ending is unconvincing.
As a portrait of a relationship between two damaged people, and a study of power and dependency, there is much to be discussed here. Nevertheless it is not one of Oates's better books, and is possibly one to be read and enjoyed as a quick read rather than one to be examined too closely.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
This story took a while to get into, and continued with quite a few unexpected twist and turns, but I still enjoyed it.
Published 2 months ago by Doreen Tregidga
2.0 out of 5 stars a fair maiden
Ok read nothing special not really edge of the seat nice love story if that is your thing try this
Published 2 months ago by Pen Name
3.0 out of 5 stars gross!
I enjoyed the beginning however wouldn't recommend to anyone who's been abused. I struggled to think of appropriate title. Felt sick!
Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Another classic.
Joyce Carol Oates, is probably the greatest living American novelist. I would read a menue if it had her name on it!
Published 4 months ago by Kindle Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Slightly disturbing
I've read several of Joyce Carol Oates' long novels but I was glad this one was only a novella in length as I found the subject matter unsettling. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Reddy
5.0 out of 5 stars A disturbing but interesting novella
A disturbing but interesting novella. Easy to read, once started I flew through it and was not disappointed. Joyce Carol Oates is a good author.
Published 14 months ago by emma chamberlain
1.0 out of 5 stars awful
yuk! horrible book with nasty overtones. felt unclean after reading it and wished I hadnt bothered. wont bereading anymore by her
Published 16 months ago by Christina Wainwright
1.0 out of 5 stars a fair maiden
this book was ok,i enjoyed the story,but was very dissapointed with the end of the book,im not sure i would recommend it,
Published 17 months ago by bridget henderson
3.0 out of 5 stars Easy reading, hold the suspense
The title on the cover is underlined as "A novel of dark suspense", which raised certain expectations with me, expectations not necessarily intended by the author. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Mick Read
2.0 out of 5 stars Not her best
Really did not like this book.It started well but descended into melodrama.Katya was believable but really didn't get Mr Kidder.Not this novelist's finest hour.
Published 23 months ago by J. Harris
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