03 November 2011

Post 444: The Corn Maiden and Other Stories

The Corn Maiden and Other Stories by Joyce Carol Oates. ISBN: 9780802126023 (eGalley - publishes November 6, 2011).

I think I'll be focusing on the two stories (of seven total) about twins in this collection, "Death-Cup" and "Fossil-Figures." For one thing, they're two of the stronger stories in the collection, although "Death-Cup" has the weaker ending and they share a similar theme regarding self worth versus perceived worth. Interestingly, they're also the only stories that contain a hyphen in the title, as if Oates is stating that without one of the pair the other is meaningless, but I'm probably reading into that.

In "Death-Cup," we have the twin pair Lyle-Alastor. Lyle is the beloved nephew of his recently deceased and well-off uncle, whereas Alastor is the charming, manipulative, money-grubbing nephew of same uncle. Like most of us with siblings, Lyle observes Alastor's behavior and wonders why he gets away with it. Some of us have also observed coworkers and other peers behaving similarly. It feels completely discouraging and frustrating to do the right thing in these situations, because even if you warn people your own Alastor is capable of presenting himself in such a way that these issues become negligible to the victims. Of course Alastor is going to pay us back; of course Alastor didn't mean to drive his cousin crazy after seducing her at the age of fifteen; and yet, someone is responsible for those actions. Alastor not only believes that he is not responsible, he also manages to make others believe he is not responsible, leaving the Lyles of the world utterly frustrated.

Meanwhile in "Fossil-Figures," Edward-Edgar start out with one twin diminished, while the other grows in ability and stature. Edward stagnates at home, becoming weak physically, supposedly destroying his parents' marriage, and becoming more and more removed from the outside world. He loses sight of his self-worth, seeing that, of course, Edgar is the "better" twin, the one more deserving of recognition, love, and happiness. Even where Edward is successful, it is because no one has come into direct contact with him; he is a nameless, faceless entity creating artwork and it is the artwork that receives the recognition instead of Edward himself.

What these two stories have in common, besides the hyphenated title and the twins, is that everyone is a combination of both twins. We almost always see ourselves as Lyle/Edward instead of Alastor/Edgar. For one thing, it is easier to feel sympathy for those we see as being the better people, but only in stories are twins people sides of a coin to each other. The person who feels like Lyle/Edward one day may the next day suck up to his boss in an Alastor/Edgar fashion and receive praise or recognition they may not actually deserve. Why so many writers, and people in general, feel the need to present this in the form or perception of twins is beyond me. Duality exists just as much in individuals as in twins, and often it is seen in twins where it does not exist. I am not successful because my brother is not and vice versa, we are combinations of characteristics and often we have both at the same time in varying degrees. To relegate that to one or the other simplifies our human quality and turns us, and your characters, into caricatures.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Review copy provided by Netgalley.

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