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Beasts (Otto Penzler Books) by Joyce Carol…

Beasts (Otto Penzler Books) (original 2002; edition 2002)

by Joyce Carol Oates

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5652117,607 (3.53)25
Title:Beasts (Otto Penzler Books)
Authors:Joyce Carol Oates
Info:Da Capo Press (2002), Paperback, 160 pages
Collections:Your library

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Beasts by Joyce Carol Oates (2002)

  1. 20
    Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson (CarlosMcRey)
    CarlosMcRey: Each book tells the story of a precocious young woman attending college in a Bennington-like college where she is drawn into dark undercurrents.

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"But I thought that was what poetry is, Mr. Harrow: circumspect. If it wasn't it would be just talk."
I thought I would enjoy this, and for the first few chapters I found the familiarity of it encouraging. Consider the premise: a young woman at a Bennington-like college, her literary aspirations, the lecherous married professor into whose circle she drifts, the peculiar roommates, her sense of alienation, and the suggestion of something darker lurking at the edges. Because I've had the good fortune to have read Ms. Jackson's (Don't call her Shirley) brilliant, hypnotic, disturbing [b:Hangsaman|131177|Hangsaman|Shirley Jackson|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1302734503s/131177.jpg|1825944], reading Beasts filled me with a powerful sense of deja vu.

Admittedly, the part of Hangsaman where the heroine, Natalie Waite, befriends and is charmed by a youngish professor and his somewhat unhinged wife makes up only a small part of the novel. It's as if Oates had decided to rewrite the older novel by concentrating only on the relationship with the professor and turning all of the subtext into text.

It might have worked. Oates is definitely a talented enough author to pull it off. Still, I found myself approaching its violent conclusion not with tension or glee but a sense of indifference, a lazy shrug. Maybe it is just the comparison with Hangsaman. Jackson knows how to zig when you think she'll zag, knows how to pull you into her protagonist's headspace as if the text had magic properties.

For all of its modern Gothic gestures, Beasts feels disappointingly linear, it's characters surprisingly flat. When it finally brings on its lurid revelations, they felt like the punchlines to jokes I had already heard.

Interestingly, circumspect means "cautious, prudent, or discreet." I'm still asking myself whether the novel was too cautious or if it would have benefited from some discretion. ( )
  CarlosMcRey | Jan 3, 2015 |
This was a short novella of JCO’s that follows college girls and their lust for a poetry professor. Simple enough plot, this was a little hard to get into at first but the ending was where Oates shined. I would recommend it, especially since it’s such a short read… however, not if it’s your first encounter with Oates (or even your 2nd or 3rd). I would wait until you start to understand Oates a little more, giving you more empathy towards her point of view.

The following is just a funny observation I made after reading the book, might only pertain to someone who has read the book.

After I finish reading a book, I like to research the book/Author on google, just one of my many quirky habits. Sometimes this can reveal very interesting things and sometimes it can be a waste of time. With “Beasts” the former is true, extremely true. I've read quite my fair share of Joyce Carol Oates, so after reading this book I was looking for something SHE had written about this book. After meeting JCO at a book reading/signing I really came to appreciate HER explanation of her own work and the process she goes through. I couldn't find anything close to this (however, if you come across it… please share with me).
What I did come across was disturbingly funny. My search was simple, “joyce carol oates beats” right into google search. If you’d like to recreate this search, the result I’ll be writing about comes from page three. I’m sure everyone knows of the site OKCupid, right? My search resulted in this result:

After reading this book, come back to this review and tell me how disturbing and funny this seems? Let’s just say that I wouldn't want to be promoting my interest in a book that had dysfunctional love as the main theme!
( )
  yougotamber | Aug 22, 2014 |
I'd only read one of Oates' other books: Big Mouth And Ugly Girl, which I really enjoyed. I didn't like this one so much. I didn't care about any of the characters, which is just another way of saying I didn't 'identify' with any of them. My eyes glossed over the story but I'm not sure I took much of it in. ( )
  LynleyS | Feb 8, 2014 |
I love you, rotten, Delicious rottenness, ... I say, wonderful are the hellish experiences Orphic, delicate Dionysos of the Underworld.
-D.H. Lawrence, Medlars and Sorb-Apples from [Birds, Beasts and Flowers]

I find Oates's work draws you in but leaves you feeling disturbed (and often dirty). But I have always appreciated her talent and her style. Oates is really clever in the way she makes you feel uneasy even in scenes that have no graphic content and she has a knack for not revealing too much too soon. You just get this eerie feeling that things are not right.

The novella's atmosphere is full of erotically suggestive imagery from D.H. Lawrence poems and the innuendoes and allusions that emerge naturally in conversation between characters charge their interactions with sexual tension.

Beasts is a a wicked little 138- page novella and a quick read, maybe not one of her best but I couldn't put it down until the last page. ( )
1 vote curlysue | Apr 12, 2013 |
My first and probably last book by this author. I read it out of curiosity and for comparison of writing style. This is a weak story of a college girl in the 1970s. She becomes involved with one of her professors and his bohemian wife. Many of her peers do the same. Actually, considering this was written in the last decade, this is a hackneyed plot. Don't know if I will give Oats another try. ( )
  LivelyLady | Nov 9, 2012 |
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I love you, rotten,
Delicious rottenness.

...wonderful are the hellish experiences,
Orphic, delicate
Dionysos of the Underworld.

D.H. Lawrence, "Medlars and Sorb-Apples" from Birds, Beasts and Flowers
First words
In the Oceania wing of the Louvre I saw it: the totem.
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:28 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Gillian Brauer has fallen in love with charismatic professor Andre Harrow, with his bohemian lifestyle, and with the mystique of his French wife, Dorcas. A sculptress, Dorcas has outraged the campus with her life-sized wooden totems bearing the motto 'We are beasts and this is our consolation'. Mesmerized, Gillian enters the rarefied world of the Harrows - and learns the meaning of Dorcas' provocative motto.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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