04 October 2010

Book Review: Beasts

Title: Beasts
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Release Date: 22 November 2002
Date Finished: 3 October 2010

Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid

Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Reading Resolutions, Hogwarts Reading Challenge, R.I.P. V

The Short and Sweet of It
Gillian Brauer is in love with her poetry professor Andre Harrow and fascinated with his wife, Dorcas, a sculptress of primitive and primal female figures. When she enters their world, filled with sex and drugs, Gillian transforms. But does she become more human? Or more beast-like?

A Bit of a Ramble
This tiny book packs quite the punch as it follows a rather masochistic girl into the clutches of two sadistic and self-centered people. We meet Gillian at the Louvre in 2001 where she is struck by a highly sexualized and grotesque female totem. The statue recalls a different time in her life, and the reader is then transported back to 1975 where Gillian is a young, impressionable college student.

Certain words immediately came to mind after reading: dark, decadent, delicious, disturbing. I'm not sure what the significance of the letter 'd' is; although I will admit that the character I found most intriguing was Dorcas, the hedonistic wife of Gillian's crush, and the one I believe was in control of the bohemian lifestyle she lived with Andre. The brevity of the language, the almost pragmatic tone in such a sensuous situation, appealed to me for some reason I can not currently articulate. Not to say the language was sparse or totally utilitarian, just very, very concise.

This work is a living nightmare, peopled with larger-than-life characters and human-animalistic creations which are just as important to the story. The plot is dream-like, told in flashback and concerned more with mood than details of events. The manipulative and sinister nature of Andre and Dorcas heavily contributes to the book's nightmarish feel. Both are extremely manipulative, sensual, and mildly sociopathic individuals. Which equals an awesome read. The only reason this didn't get a buy rating is that while I appreciate the art of it, it wasn't as entertaining as I hoped.

Memorable Scene and Quote: This is the material of nightmare, therefore the material of potentially great art.

This sentence really struck me for a few reasons. At this point in the story, Andre, disgusted with the pedantic poetry of his students, forces them to write completely uncensored journals. Some of the girls immediately jump into this self-revealing activity, discussing sexual encounters, past abuse, etc. I was horrified by the idea of a teacher using his students in this way, manipulating them into satisfying some sick pleasure of his own, an oratory voyeurism.

It also got me thinking though. How many of the truly creative literary geniuses were nutball crazy with nightmares? Is it true that horror makes better artists/authors?

This Book Around the Web
If I've missed your review, let me know!

Estella's Revenge; A Work in Progress;


  1. This sounds fantastic Trisha. I'll add it to my wish list :)

  2. Oh, this does sound like a wonderfully dark read, and one that I would really like. I have not yet read anything written by Oates, but have heard amazing things about her work. I think this book sounds fascinating and I am adding it to my list right now. Thanks for the great review!

  3. Aaaaand once again I read a review of Joyce Carol Oates and say wow, she scares me, I don't think I'll read her books...

  4. I'm with Amanda. This review was dark enough for me. I think the book would totally creep me out!

  5. This sounds so exactly like what I think of Joyce Carol Oates. She's one of my guilty pleasure reads, but even this seems like a little big much for me.

  6. Well this sounds wildly different than the Joyce Carol Oates book I read (We Were the Mulvaneys). I guess she mixes it up!

    And I can't get over the name Dorcas. To me, I would pronounce it "DORK-US." Not good.

  7. I haven't heard of this one! For some reason, I've only read one book by Joyce Carol Oates but I idolize her as an author... I have a lot of her books on my TBR! This one sounds sort of scary!

  8. Love it! Love the book, love the review, love everything. I really am amazed by her ability to creep me out.

  9. I saw a review of this at some point and really wanted to read it, but then it slipped my mind. Glad to see another review of it to remind me to see if I can get a copy!

  10. I have this book and I love Joyce Carol Oates, but I haven't had the desire to read this one yet. Soon!

  11. You sold me on "dark, decadent, delicious, disturbing." Plus the alliteration...! Well, and the cover is gorgeous.

    I've always wanted to read Joyce Carol Oates--haven't read some of her short stories--and I own a few novels, but for some reason I'm intimidated by her. Not sure why?? But wow--this is a fantastic review, Trisha!

  12. I'm on a life long quest to read the entire Oates back list...and now I'm putting this one near the top of my list. Perfect for the season!

  13. I only ever read one of Oates books and I couldn't finish it. However your review makes me want to try her again. REaders have such visceral reactions, that I have to see for myself.

  14. Hmmm ... I haven't read anything by Joyce Carol Oates since ... like ... the late 70s. She was always a bit on the dark side, but WOW! I'm not sure whether this books is for me or not. This review scared me a bit.


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