Book 203: The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares. Author: Joyce Carol Oates, 2011. Genre: Contemporary. Horror. Literary Fiction. Short Stories. Other Details: Paperback. 365 pages.
I am not usually a fan of short story collections, finding them a little hit and miss. Yet this collection, which contained seven tales of non-supernatural horror, was superb from start to finish. The centrepiece of this collection is the novella, The Corn Maiden, which was my favourite and the most chilling.
The Corn Maiden is Marissa, a beautiful eleven-year old girl with long hair the colour of corn-silk, who is stolen away by a group of teenage girls. They are led by the fanatical Jude, who has convinced her small group of disciples that they need Marissa to recreate a Native American rite, that she claims involves the ritual sacrifice of an innocent 'corn maiden'. The girls also maliciously plant suspicion on another innocent: a male teacher at their school who had angered Jude. There are aspects of what Leah, Marissa's grieving mother, faces in the spotlight of the media that call to mind scenes so familiar from news stories as her life, actions and secrets are laid bare to public scrutiny.
The other six stories involve toxic twins, revenge, sibling rivalry, lonely widows and an ambitious doctor. The stories each embodied a nightmarish situation giving a sense of continuity to the collection.
I've been impressed by the novels of Joyce Carol Oates that I've read and this collection proved to me that the praise about her skill with the short story format is more than justified.
Redshirts, by John Scalzi (complimentary copy) Meta! In spaaaaaaaaaaaaace. This was a lot of fun. Also clever. (165, A9)
Tropic of Hockey, by Dave Bidini Dave and his wife traveled around the world to places where people play hockey ... places like Hong Kong, Dubai, and northern China. I forgot I liked sports books until I read this. (166)
Home and Away, by Dave Bidini This one was about the Homeless World Cup (of soccer). Focused on the Canadian team, 'cause Bidini traveled with them. Both funny and meaningful. (167)
Insurgent, by Veronica Roth Really all I want from a teen dystopia is for it to make me unable to put it down. And this one totally did that. (168)
Stonelight, by Gaelyn Gordon Quirky, oldfashioned kid's timetravel fantasy set in New Zealand. Was quite good, but not amazing. (169)
Gould's Book of Fish, by Richard Flanagan This book was annoying. Like, really annoying. The patches with no women in them were particularly dire. And yet, its better qualities got me to read it all the way through. Because they were really good. Whatcha gonna do? (170)
What the Family Needed, by Steven Amsterdam This was lovely, a perfect balance of realism and (superpower-type) fantasy, snarkiness and insight. Definitely going on the read-more-by-this-guy shelf. (171)
This is a book I absolutely loved as a kid so decided to read it again. It's not the first in the Narnia series, but it was the first written and most scholars agree that this should be book to start with when reading the Chronicles of Narnia.
The story opens with four children - Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy - being evacuated during World War 2 to an old country house inhabited by a professor and his housekeeper. When the weather prevents them from being able to explore the countryside, Lucy discovers that the wardrobe in an attic room leads into a woodland that turns out to be the land of Narnia.
She is approached by a faun by the name of Mr. Tumnus, who befriends her but secretly plans to hand her over to the self-proclaimed ruler of Narnia, the White Witch, who has cast a spell over Narnia to make it "always winter, never Christmas". Lucy manages to convince Mr. Tumnus to let her go and they become friends.
Of course, no one on the outside world believes where Lucy has been, and when Edmund accidentally finds Narnia and meets the White Witch, he still pretends this is all a game. Eventually all four children find themselves in Narnia while trying to hide from visitors, and this is when the adventure begins and the children find themselves being told that the great lion, Aslan, is on the move and that only he can rescue Narnia from the White Witch.
This book is, at face value, an enchanting children's tale about a fantasy world/parallel universe; anyone who reads deeper into this might even see parallels between the war that is taking place in Britain at the time of the book and the conflict between good and evil that takes place in the book. Many people who read this book will surely realise that this is also a Christian book, and in this case it is mostly an allegory to the life of Jesus (who is represented in the Narnia series by Aslan). The most obvious reference comes near to the end...
[Spoiler (click to open)]Aslan allows himself to be sacrificed in the place of Edmund, who previously betrayed his brother and sisters. This fulfils an ancient prophecy and after his death, Aslan is resurrected.
When I read Michael Ward's The Narnia Code, I found that there were other similes made by the theme of the children being crowned in Cair Paravel to the concept of "wearing a crown" in Heaven that features in the Bible.
Overall, I found this book to be just as enjoyable as it was when I was young; certainly reading it now, I can tell it is aimed at a young audience because of the way it is written (C.S. Lewis constantly reminds his audience they should not shut themselves in a wardrobe), it the final battle felt like it was a bit too short, but that was mainly from having seen TV and film adaptations that milked that particular scene for all that it was worth. I also liked the characterisation of the children, particularly how Edmund starts off as a character who should be very dislikable, but gets transformed by the books events into a heroic character. C.S. Lewis was an incredible writer and I will hopefully get a chance to re-read the rest of the Narnia series soon.