Sunday, September 29, 2013

Daddy Love by Joyce Carol Oates

Dinah and Perry “Whit” Whitcomb seem to have the perfect life with their five year old son Robbie until the day when he is abducted from the parking lot at the mall and his mother is run over by the kidnapper’s van and left for dead.

Although Dinah miraculously survives, crippled and disfigured, none of their lives will ever be the same again.

“Daddy Love” aka the Reverend Chester Cash, a traveling preacher, is a pedophile who has chosen Robbie to be the latest in a long line of sons, all of whom “disappeared” when they were approaching puberty. He takes Robbie to live in a secluded farmhouse and changes his name to Gideon and tells him his parents gave him away because he cost them too much money, he tells him that euthanasia is not a practice reserved solely for unwanted animals, but for orphans too, and he should be grateful that Daddy Love came along and saved him.  Whenever Robbie/Gideon resists or shows any spark of rebellion Daddy Love is always swift to punish him, with a broken finger for refusing to take his hand, or confining him inside a locked coffin-like box or by killing his beloved pet dog.

As the years pass, Robbie’s parents struggle to keep their marriage alive and with it the hope that somehow, miraculously, Robbie is still alive and may someday come back to them, “Whit” enjoys increasing success as a dj and Dinah devotes herself to volunteer work, while Robbie worries that he will disappear like all Daddy Love’s other sons.

By the time he is eleven, Robbie/Gideon is a shy, socially awkward sixth grader who expresses himself in disturbing drawings that catch the eye of his teacher. His “father” explains away his awkwardness and silence by saying he is mildly autistic and suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome. He believes his real parents didn’t want him and that his real mother died of lung cancer and his time with Daddy Love is running out, he’s getting older and Daddy has been dropping hints that he wants a new son. After his teacher talks to Daddy Love about his drawings, and the punishment that follows, Robbie/Gideon begins expressing his anger with acts of arson.

Will Dinah and Whit ever see their son again? Will Daddy Love ever pay for his crimes? Is there a happy ending to this dark, disturbing story? If you’re a regular reader to this blog, you know I won’t tell and risk spoiling it for anyone.

This was an interesting novel, despite the disturbing subject matter about a sick and depraved predator who steals children’s innocence and lives, it realistically tells the story of a child’s abduction from both the side of the captive child and his grieving parents. It’s a very poignant, sad, and ugly story. The first few chapters are also, in my opinion, somewhat annoying, for some reason the author felt compelled to repeat them, each time in a very obvious way yet each time embellishing them, adding more details. This goes on for about four chapters, if I remember correctly, and then stops and the story moves on. I’ve read other novels by Joyce Carol Oates in the past, and I don’t recall her using this technique, so I’m really not sure what to make of it, except that perhaps it has something to do with the way a mother would relive the day her child was adducted over and over again. But that’s just a guess. I know it was annoying enough to stand out and make me question whether I wanted to continue reading the novel, which I obviously did otherwise I would not be writing this review, so I wanted to make sure I mentioned this in case other readers started it and found themselves feeling the same way.

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