Sunday, May 5, 2013

Black Dahlia & White Rose by Joyce Carol Oates

This is the latest story collection published by this very prolific author. I could not resist it because of the title story.  Set in 1947, “Black Dahlia & White Rose” imagines murder victim Elizabeth Short, best known today as “The Black Dahlia,” and Norma Jean Baker, before she became Marilyn Monroe, sharing a rented room in Hollywood. It’s narrated in the alternating voices of these two “lost girls” plus a sleazy girlie mag photographer, K. Keinhardt, whose lucrative peephole arrangement with a man known as “The Bone Doctor” may have led to Elizabeth’s death and macabre fame, albeit ironically since it was really Norma Jean he wanted.

The other stories, to be honest, didn’t really appeal to me. Some were ok, but most I just shoved my way through because I don’t like to start a book and not finish it. I have read a few novels by Joyce Carol Oates over the years, some of which will eventually be reviewed here; I have two sitting in my “to read” stack right now. Her novel about Marilyn Monroe, Blonde, is a particular favorite of mine, and I also enjoyed her fictional take on the Jonbenet Ramsey case, My Sister, My Love, both of which I hope to review here someday whenever I find time to reread them, so it’s probably just this particular collection wasn’t my cup of tea and other readers may enjoy these stories much more than I did.

I.D. is about a young girl who is pulled out of class by the police in order to identify a body in the morgue that may be her mother’s. In Deceit a mother in a lorazepam haze is summoned to meet the school counselor about some suspicious bruises on her daughter’s body. In Run Kiss Daddy a man gets another chance at fatherhood and marriage at the age of forty-seven. While in Hey Dad a man and his unknown illegitimate son both receive degrees at a graduation ceremony. In Good Samaritan—in my opinion the best story in the book after the title story—a college student finds a lost wallet and returns it only to discover that the woman it belongs to is a missing person and the worried husband she hands it to is a person of interest. A little bird is trapped in a big airport in A Brutal Murder In A Public Place. And in Roma! A couple visit Italy to celebrate their thirtieth wedding anniversary. In Spotted Hyenas: A Romance a discounted housewife trapped in a loveless, sexless, emotionless marriage to a bit shot corporate attorney visits the hyena sanctuary operated by a man she hasn’t thought about in years after she sees mysterious creatures lurking around outside her house. San Quentin is about a man imprisoned for life who enrolls in life biology classes because he wants to know what life and death really mean. And in the final story, Anniversary, a widow on what would have been her fiftieth anniversary begins teaching a writing class at a men’s prison

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