Top critical review
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Clever, descriptive, ever so slightly menacing, shocking
on 27 January 2010
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.