In these four novellas, we are introduced to a cast of interesting characters and told four distinct stories. Each story pulls the reader in immediately. What they all have in common is the sense that something isn't quite right, but we don't know what that is exactly. Sometimes the suspension lingers at the end of the story, not exactly leaving the reader hanging, but not wrapping everything up either.
There are some unexpected twists, some unreliable narrators, and perhaps a ghost here or there. The writing is perfection. It's not too detailed, but Oates gives enough that the characters are well developed, there is a sense of place, and the tension that exists among the characters is palpable, but not explicit. Themes of identity, happiness, sexual harassment, relationships, and keeping secrets help make this an enjoyable read.
Cardiff, by the Sea
The title novella is one of my favourites of the four. 30 year old Clare Seidel is the beneficiary of a grandmother she's never heard of. Clare was adopted at the age of 2 and she has been the perfect adopted daughter. She hasn't asked a lot of questions about her birth parents, but she carries the questions inside her. Her adopted parents, Hannah and Walter have been good parents, she is their only child.
Finding out about this grandmother causes her to be more curious and she asks her mother for more information about her birth parents. The answers are vague. Clare must go to Cardiff Maine, There, she stays with her two great aunts and her Uncle Girard. I loved how the aunts bantered and bickered back and forth.
Clare has inherited property and wants to learn about her family. Are her parents still alive? What happened to them? And why did they give her up for adoption at the age of two? Clare is hoping for these answers but they may not be answers she likes.
Twelve year old Mia's life is falling apart. Her father is leaving the family and Mia thinks it's her fault. Mia has two younger brothers and feels like she's almost an adult. The only thing that makes Mia happy are the feral cats that roam the neighbourhood. Mia has secretly been feeding them.
At school, boys tease and harass her. She's too embarrassed and ashamed to say anything and there is increased tension with her friends. She's lonely, but finds comfort in the feral cats and has one that she has taken in as her own.
Her mother has been dating a man online and they eventually marry. This man who has been kind to Mia's mother and her brothers, and even her, starts to change. What will that mean for Mia and her family?
19 year old Alyce Urquhart is pregnant and the father is her philosophy instructor. What is Alyce going to do now? She could have an abortion or commit suicide, but maybe there's another way?
Roland B, a distinguished poet and professor takes a liking to Alyce. Alyce is impressed by him too. He seems to have been connected to all of the great poets of the time. Roland invites Alyce to the Poet's House and asks her to be his assistant and archivist. This begins a beautiful relationship of mutual respect.
Alyce thinks that maybe Roland can help her and he is willing to, but then Roland becomes ill. Alyce cares for him and visits every day. When her philosophy instructor finally confronts her she knows that she has to tell the truth about the baby.
The Surviving Child
10 year old Stefan is the surviving child. His mother and sister died by carbon monoxide poisoning three years ago. His mother, a notorious poet, left no suicide note and Stefan was originally in the car too. Why had his mother changed his mind about him, leaving him in a closet to be found by his father?
Now, his father Alexander, is remarrying a woman named Elizabeth. Elizabeth tries to find ways to connect with her new step-son who is quiet, mysterious, and has odd behaviours. Elizabeth wants so badly to be liked, maybe even loved by Alexander.
Her new husband has a harshness that Elizabeth doesn't like. He becomes distant and is away a lot which leaves Elizabeth alone in the house. She knows the rules. She's not allowed in the garage, but she still explores other rooms. She notices that strange things are happening in the house and she is having strange thoughts? Is the house haunted? Will she find out the truth about what really happened here?
Thank you to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic Mysterious Press for the free e-ARC for an honest review.
Bookworm Rating: 🐛🐛🐛🐛🌱