Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terrorby Joyce Carol Oates
A collection of six psychologically daring, exquisitely suspenseful stories from the masterful Joyce Carol Oates.
From one of our most important contemporary writers, The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror is a bold, haunting collection of six stories.
In the title story, a young boy becomes obsessed with his cousin’s doll after she tragically passes away from leukemia. As he grows older, he begins to collect “found dolls” from the surrounding neighborhoods and stores his treasures in the abandoned carriage house on his family’s estate. But just what kind of dolls are they? In “Gun Accident,” a teenage girl is thrilled when her favorite teacher asks her to house-sit, even on short notice. But when an intruder forces his way into the house while the girl is there, the fate of more than one life is changed forever. In “Equatorial,” set in the exotic Galápagos, an affluent American wife experiences disorienting assaults on her sense of who her charismatic husband really is, and what his plans may be for her.
In The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror, Joyce Carol Oates evokes the “fascination of the abomination” that is at the core of the most profound, the most unsettling, and the most memorable of dark mystery fiction.
“Oates’s brand of horror has never required the invocation of other worlds: This world is terrible enough for her. Everything she writes, in whatever genre, has an air of dread, because she deals in vulnerabilities and inevitabilities, in the desperate needs that drive people . . . to their fates. A sense of helplessness is the essence of horror, and Oates conveys that feeling as well as any writer around.” —Terrence Rafferty, New York Times Book Review
“Does any writer around do literary creepy like Joyce Carol Oates? . . . The terrifying tales in The Doll-Master . . . are certain to stick in your mind long after you’ve turned the last page . . . The stories always have an undercurrent of menace poised to break through at any moment.” —Dale Singer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Bone-chilling . . . At the heart of each story is a predator-prey relationship, and what makes them so terrifying is that most of us can easily picture ourselves as the prey, at least at some time during our lives.” —Pamela Miller, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“One of the stranger parts of the human condition may be our deep fascination, and at times troubling exploration, of the darker aspects of our nature . . . No other author explores the ugly, and at times, blazingly unapologetic underbelly of these impulses quite like Joyce Carol Oates in The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror. This is a collection of six frightening—and deeply disturbing—short stories that defy what even the most hardened booklover might expect from tales of horror and crime. Stories that . . . stay with the reader long after they’ve turned the final twisted page . . . Ms. Oates imbues each victim and perpetrator with an uncomfortable familiarity—it could be easy to imagine that we could walk by many of these characters on our way to pick up some groceries. That tangibility and realness is where the true terror in these stories can be found . . . This particular collection of short stories gives those of us who are fascinated with the more sinister aspects of human behavior the type of release we perhaps, begrudgingly, crave.” —Mia Bencivenga, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Throughout her extraordinarily prolific career, Joyce Carol Oates’s work has always embraced aspects of the macabre. In her new collection, The Doll-Master, she relishes moments of gothic melodrama, while rooting them firmly in grindingly ordinary American lives . . . It’s a collection that displays Oates’s ability to inhabit distinctive voices to chilling effect.” —Guardian (UK)
“A sextet of creepy stories to disturb your nights and cast shadows across your days . . . For readers who like the frisson of psychological horror.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Oates convincingly demonstrates her mastery of the macabre with this superlative story collection . . . She truly hits her stride in the stories rooted in apparent normalcy . . . This devil’s half-dozen of dread and suspense is a must read.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Impressive . . . As always with Oates, the journey, not the arrival, is what thrills.” —Winnipeg Free Press
“Oates continues her career-long fascination with the gothic and horrific by delving into the dark, murderous side of humanity . . . Not likely to disappoint.” —Ninth Circle Books
From “The Doll-Master”
When I was five years old, Baby Emily disappeared from my room.
I was so surprised! I looked under the bed and in the closet and in each of my bureau drawers and then I looked in all these places again as well as beneath the covers at the foot of the bed but Baby Emily was gone.
I ran to my mother, crying. I asked my mother where Baby Emily was. My mother told me that my father “didn’t think it was a good idea” for me to be playing with a doll at my age. Dolls are for girls, she said. Not boys. “Daddy just thought it might be better to take the doll away before you got ‘too attached’ . . .” Guiltily my mother spoke, and there was softness in her voice, but nothing I said could change her mind, no matter how I cried, or how angry I became, slapping and kicking at her and saying how I hated her, my mother did not change her mind because my father would not allow it. “He said he’d ‘indulged’ you long enough. And he blames me.”
In place of Baby Emily who was so sweet and placid and smelled of foam-rubber, my father had instructed my mother to buy me an “action toy”—one of the new-model expensive ones—a U.S. Navy SEAL robot-soldier that came fully armed, and could move forward across the room, empowered by a battery.
I would never forgive either of them, I thought. But particularly, I would never forgive him.