The Female of the Species Review
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I’m not usually a big fan of mystery or suspense stories—basically because so few writers can pull off the genre. Most writers lean on clichés to get them by, and the false twist at the end can always be seen coming about four chapters out. But Joyce Carol Oates is a writer who can make the Chinese phone book interesting—so I wasn’t disappointed with her short story collection, The Female of the Species.

There are nine stories in this collection, each of which finds a way to show women at their deadliest. Even a nine-year-old girl gets into the murderous act. Oates creates her characters in a way that the reader knows the kill is coming but wants to hang around and watch anyway. That’s the mark of an excellent writer—when you know what’s coming but still can’t put the book down.

All of the stories in the collection end in murder—and in nearly every case, the reader can find something to sympathize with in the female lead. The first short story is the clearest case of the woman being justified in her kill—sort of. It’s hard to feel close to the child prostitute turned killer, but it’s easy to despise her (step)father/pimp. And who can’t understand wanting to slice up a self-absorbed, rich, paranoid shopping fanatic?

None of the characters are clear-cut good or evil, and that makes the stories even more compelling. Readers are allowed to make decisions about how they feel about the characters and how to treat them. That’s a treat in today’s market of cookie-cutter books. Each of the women in the book has been hurt by men in their past (or in the present)—and those scars are a part of why they are where they are when Oates reveals them to us.

Joyce Carol Oates is still one of the premier writers in America—and this collection of short stories shows why. Her characters are compelling and realistic. She makes her readers think, exercising a few mental muscles while they read—so it may be best to take this book a story at a time to let them all soak in.

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