The New Yorker Reader: Pumpkin Head, by Joyce Carol Oates

by |
01/08/2009 4:15 PM |

I know, I know, it’s serious.

It’s always Halloween for Joyce Carol Oates.

Good times here in Gothic New Jersey, where a lonely widow is menaced by a goofy Bosnian graduate student and food coop employee. There’s some political undercurrents here — mostly in the foreigner’s naive but absolute statements about American character, and the American’s misreading of the foreigner’s intentions (and tendency to come off as more arrogant than intended in her responses) — but essentially we’re drifting in the realm of strangeness.

Everybody read “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” in high school, right? With the car in the driveway and the dread, which is either alluring or inevitable or both? This is like that; Oates sets it up early with her descriptions of charged air and “crossing over”. It’s a Death and the Maiden set-up and conclusion — in fact the story is sort of tonally concentric, the uncanny surrounding an urban legend-type horror story at the beginning and home invasion freakout at the end, which themselves surround a comedy of social errors and sexual calculations.