Joyce Carol Oates, as prolific a writer as she is, has written many riveting, heart-rending, moving, significant, and relatable stories. Why, then, did she choose to write this stomach-turning novel about a sociopathic and sadistic pederast who abuses young children and animals? As talented and skillful writer Oates is, I would never have selected this book from Net Galley if I had had a clue as to the subject. I’m going to going on a James Thurber and Robert Benchley binge after this descent into hell.
I’m not ignoring the fact that the situation Oates relates doesn’t happen every day. We don’t hear about every occurrence of child abduction; there clearly was a reason for the establishment of the Amber Alert. We need to be aware of the dangers in our society to young children and animals. That may have been Oates’s motive in writing this book. A question that is often asked when an abducted child is found after being missing for years is “Why didn’t the child try to escape?” Oates addresses this question in many ways in her description of how Daddy Love trains his boys to obey unquestioningly. The ending is ambiguous; Robbie may or may not recover from his experience. Oates leaves us to wonder what is next for the very damaged Robbie.
I have mentioned abuse of animals a couple of times. This is a very personal issue for me. I don’t think this is a spoiler for anyone who reads this book: when Daddy Love gets Robbie a dog from the shelter, the reader will know how it is going to end. I skipped those pages. There is no rule that one must read every word.
In conclusion, this is a very disturbing and very well executed book. Be aware, though, that it is not for the faint-hearted.