The Corn Maidenby Joyce Carol Oates
A chilling volume of stories and novellas by Joyce Carol Oates, one of the worlds’ greatest and most prolific writers.
An incomparable master storyteller in all forms, in The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares Joyce Carol Oates spins six imaginative tales of suspense. “The Corn Maiden” is the gut-wrenching story of Marissa, a beautiful and sweet but somewhat slow eleven-year-old girl with hair the color of corn silk. Her single mother comes home one night to find her missing and she panics. The police want to know why she left her young daughter alone until 8:00 p.m. With the confession that she’d been with a man, she knows she will be accused of neglect, or worse. Suspicion falls on a computer teacher at Marissa’s school who has no alibi. Obvious clues—perhaps too obvious—point directly to him. Unsuspected is Judah (born Judith), an older girl from the same school who has told two friends in her thrall of the Indian legend of the Corn Maiden, in which a girl is sacrificed to ensure a good crop.
The trusting Marissa goes happily to a secluded basement with the older girls, pleased to be included, and is then convinced that the world has ended and that they are the last survivors. Remaining an unaware hostage for days, she grows weaker on a sparse diet as Judah prepares her for sacrifice. Marissa’s seemingly inevitable fate becomes ever more terrifying as Judah relishes her power, giving the tale unbearable tension with a shocking conclusion.
In “Helping Hands,” published here for the first time, a lonely woman meets a man in the unlikely clutter of a dingy charity shop and extends friendship, which soon turns to quiet and unacknowledged desire. With the mind-set of a victim struggling to overcome her shyness and fears, she has no idea what kinds of doors she may be opening.
The powerful stories in this extraordinary collection further enhance Joyce Carol Oates’s standing as one of the world’s greatest writers of suspense.
“In taut tales, the prolific Oates renders a world terrifying and utterly familiar . . . Oates is not only a prolific writer but a fine one—entertaining, skillful, always writing with one finger on the cultural pulse, often brilliantly so.” —Boston Globe
“The seven stories in this stellar collection from the prolific Oates may prompt the reader to turn on all the lights or jump at imagined noises. This volume burnishes Oates’s reputation as a master of psychological dread.” —Publishers Weekly
“While the shadows of Poe and Hitchcock loom over these tales, it’s clear that Oates herself is a master at creeping out her readers.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Oates’s voice is strong and unique; the words come at the reader in a rushed and breathy fashion but remain elegant and well-chosen. She is a master at balancing the shaky or unstable viewpoint of her subjects with a cool intellectual narrative style.” —Bookreporter
“What is most compelling about the works here: our worst fears, realized, nearly always result from our deepest vulnerabilities.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
Praise for Joyce Carol Oates:
“Oates is just a fearless writer . . . with her brave heart and her impossibly lush and dead-on imaginative powers.” —Los Angeles Times
“If the phrase “woman of letters’ existed, Joyce Carol Oates would be, foremost in this country, entitled to it.” —John Updike
“What keeps us coming back to Oates country is her uncanny gift of making the page a window, with something happening on the other side that we’d swear was life itself.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Her genius happens to be giant.” —The Washington Post Book World
“Joyce Carol Oates is one of the great writers of our time.” —John Gardner
“No living American writer echoes the chord of dread plucked by Edgar Allan Poe quite like Joyce Carol Oates. There is something rotten, possibly even evil, pulsing away at the heart of her short fiction. . . .Oates is a master of suspense.” —the Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
Winner of the 2011 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection
Nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award
In the twilight of her bedroom he came to her. His face was shadowed, the quick-flashing bared teeth and the glisten of his eyes were all she could see of his face. She knew his smell: unmistakable. Her body tensed against him. Her heart was beating close to bursting. Her shoulders, her back, her hips and buttocks, her straining head, were pinned against the bed by the weight of his body. His hands on her throat, fingers tightening. You called me, you wanted me here. This is what you wanted. Through the house there was a heavy pulsing silence. The grandfather clock in the downstairs hall had ceased its solemn chiming weeks before. For in the Haidt household it had been Helene’s husband who oversaw the Stickley clock, inherited from his family. Helene had begun to realize that she hadn’t been hearing the clock for—how long? The tolling of time had simply ceased.
For this is death—the tolling of time has ceased.
Yet the man did not strangle her.
His fingers relaxed—then again tightened, and again relaxed—tightened, relaxed: this was mercy, that he would allow her to breathe. For the gift of breath was the man’s to give her; it was not for her to take.