Over the weekend, I read her latest novel, A Fair Maiden, and I was immediately reminded of her famous short story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" Written in the 1960's and inspired by Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now Baby Blue", Joyce's story follows a beautiful yet irresponsible teenage girl and highlights the dangerous world in which young women can find themselves in.
Similarly, this novel focuses on another teenage beauty, Katya Spivak. Katya comes from a lower-class family in New Jersey but spends her summer nannying in an exclusive East Coast beach town. While there, she is "befriended" by a very prominent and wealthy gentlemen. Over the course of their relationship, Katya finds herself in compromised situations but in her naivety and irresponsibility, she refuses to cut off ties. Katya is both innocent and knowing. She recognizes the threat that this older man poses, but still allows herself to become entrapped in sexual exploitation.
The story almost plods along until the last chapters, where the plot suddenly escalates and becomes captivating. The ending of the story makes me wonder if Oates was attempting a feminist take on certain fairy tales about virgins and noblemen, but I found myself relatively detached by the conclusion. One of the biggest problems I found with this novel was Oate's attempt to write Katya as a modern, 21st century teenager. While in her earlier novels, Oates was able to capture the youth and beat of the younger generation, she fails to understand the modern teenager. I found myself sometimes laughing at the mannerisms and reactions of this protagonist.
So if you've never read Oates before, I would highly recommend looking into another novel. She is an amazing author, and when she is on, her novels are captivating and her prose is mind-blowing. You Must Remember This and them are two novels that I particularly enjoyed. You can't really fault Oates for being out of touch with modern, American girls. She is, after all, seventy two years old, and I have to admire the fact that she can even do a decent job capturing the voice of this generation.
Below is a picture of Oates in her younger years...I think she is beautiful.