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Beasts (Otto Penzler Books) (original 2002; edition 2002)
Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0786711035, Paperback)Penzler Pick, January 2002: OK, OK. I know it looks like a conflict of interest, or favoritism, or nepotism, or some -ism or another that appears to be unethical. But it's not. Honestly.
Since I've been creating "Penzler's Picks" for Amazon.com I've never reviewed any of the books I've published under my imprint at Carroll & Graf--until now. I've been tempted many times, for the obvious reason that, if I like a book enough to publish it, I'd like it well enough to recommend it. But I've resisted for the reason noted above.
My affection for and admiration of Beasts, however, is so enormous that I just can't help myself. I've been an admirer of Joyce Carol Oates for longer than I care to admit. Indeed, I raved about Blonde in these pages long before it was nominated for a National Book Award (and should have won, in my opinion).
Beasts is a little jewel of a book, only 138 pages. Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea is a perfect gem, and so are Steinbeck's The Red Pony, and James Ellroy's Dick Contino's Blues, and Henry James's The Turn of the Screw; the short novel is capable of being one of an author's masterpieces. Short novels, or novellas, allow for the author to develop characters more fully than is possible in a short story, yet constrict them enough to maintain a single mood, or tone, throughout the entire book, which might easily become oppressive in a longer work.
Set in an apparently idyllic New England college town, Beasts is the story of Gillian Brauer, a student who falls in love with her professor, his Bohemian lifestyle, and anti-establishment attitudes, and what happens when she falls under his spell.
Knowing that other girls preceded her does not deter Gillian from becoming part of the household of Professor Harrow and his larger-than-life wife, Dorcas, the outrageous sculptress of shocking wooden totems. Drawn into their life, Gillian soon becomes a helpless pawn, a victim of her own passions and those of her mentors. Or does she? Sometimes even the most seemingly powerless prey can surprise a predator.
Savor every word of this little masterpiece, as it is unlikely that you will read anything to equal it for a long, long time. --Otto Penzler
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:05:34 -0400)
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