Last night, when I was done with some work for my online classes, I plunked myself down in a squishy chair and read another story from Joyce Carol Oates's The Collector of Hearts: New Tales of the Grotesque for the RIP IV Short Story Sunday. I was too pooped to post, so I'm Short Story Mondaying!
This time I read "Death Mother," which I expected to be extremely creepy and possibly gross from the description on the dust jacket. Oates is just never one to play into expectations. The story was definitely creepy and disturbing but not in the way I expected.
Jeanette Harth's mother is in and out of mental hospitals all of her life after trying a couple of times to kill her daughters. These bits are told in italic flashbacks throughout the story. While she comes close to offing Jeanette, she does manage to kill her other daughter, Mary. Something to do with Drano, I think? It's never really explained, which is probably a good thing.
Anyway, the mother is hospitalized on and off throughout Jeanette's life, and she'll occasionally pop up and cause Jeanette worlds of trouble, heartache, and frustration. The mother is just flat-ass crazy. She dresses in soiled, wrecked clothing. Her hair smells. She's just a mess. While her previous appearances are alluded to in this story, the focus of the action is on her last appearance--at Jeanette's college--where Jeanette is unsurprisingly scared to death that her mother will do something nutty and embarrass her in front of her friends. And her mother wants to take her away from the college, which really freaks her out.
Since her mother has nowhere else to go, she stays in Jeanette's room at a college boarding house while Jeanette goes to choir practice. An unexpected turn of events puts Jeanette in the right place at the right time for an intimate moment with a professor, and when dear old mom finds out the next morning, it pushes her over the edge.
Now, of course, I can't tell you what "over the edge" means exactly. But I promise it has nothing to do with Drano. So, like I said, this story is creepy, but again not as overtly icky or weird as I expected. It's more about Jeanette dealing with the demons of her past and trying to become her own woman free of her mother's overbearing influence.I appreciate that Oates can interject a bigger meaning into a story that could've been just a weird tale.
I'm almost finished with The Hunt for the Seventh, so I hope to be reporting on it as early as tomorrow! How are your RIP reads going?