(CLASSIC: from The Monkey’s Paw and Other Tales of Mystery and the Macabre, ACP)
I think this classic ‘be careful what you wish for’ horror story – in which a family use a mysterious monkey’s paw to make wishes, only to find each one demands a terrible sacrifice in return – resonates so well with me because it’s very human and emotional. Mr. and Mrs. White’s wishes are what we’d all wish for; as they finally listen to the terrible knocking of their son at the door, it’s more than just a moment of horror, it’s one of loss, grief and shattered hope.
(MODERN: from High Lonesome: Selected Stories 1966-2006, Ecco)
The classic Oates themes of dualism, hidden selves, and the seemingly inescapable inevitability of fate and evil, find perfect concentration in this stunning tale, in which a teenage girl, drawn to danger and excitement amid the stultifying boredom of her smalltown American life, is lured away to a terrible fate by the charismatic psychopath Arnold Friend. She goes with him not only because she has to – he’s implied that her family will all suffer if she refuses – but also because she’s strangely excited by the idea of stepping over the “threshold” into the unknown, even if it costs her her innocence, or even her life. For me, Oates is our greatest living writer, and this story captures that quality like lightning in a bottle.
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