First Love: A Gothic Tale
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First Love: A Gothic Tale

3.14 of 5 stars 3.14  ·  rating details  ·  392 ratings  ·  58 reviews
Josie S- has come with her mother Delia to live in her great-aunt Esther Burkhardt's house in upstate New York. Also living there is Josie's cousin, Jared, Jr., on leave from the Presbyterian seminary. Preoccupied with his studies, impeccably dressed in his starched white shirts, distant and mysterious, Jared, Jr. is an intriguing figure to Josie's curious and impressionab...more
Paperback, 86 pages
Published August 21st 1997 by Ecco Press (first published 1996)
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mark monday
"'Bad blood'! --what does that mean?" I asked, revulsed by the thought, and Mother said, "'Bad feeling.' basically," and I said, "But why call it something so ugly-- 'bad blood'? Ugh." My throat choked up as if the smell was with us in the room. "One day," Mother said ominously, yet with satisfaction, "you'll know."
sweet Jesus, this was a disturbing novella.

SOME SPOILERS but nothing you won't find right on the back cover of the book

precocious 11-year old Josie and her intriguing but worthless m...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This is a dense book with a short length. There is so much going on in "First Love," so much happening with the main character's psyche and those around her that it demands multiple reads. It's certainly not for all tastes as it is quite disturbing and troubling to sit through. Brilliantly crafted, though, beautiful in how it's put together.

The story begins with the main character, Josie, at 10 years old. She's moved to a relative's house with her mother leaving their father behind for reasons n...more
The subtitle: "A Gothic Tale," prepares the reader for the stylized prose, and mysterious, dark, pastoral setting: many of the literary tropes of gothic literature. Typically the protagonist is a young female, sexually innocent, and full of curiosity. The prose is a bit...breathy at times, but I really enjoyed the book as a whole, including the lovely engravings.
This was probably one of the most disturbing and uncomfortable novels I have ever read, although it was very good and had a lot of mystery in it.
This is the first of several books by Joyce Carol Oates that I'll be trying to read in the next week or two. This story has some gothic characteristics but it is less than 100 pages long, too short to take seriously as a gothic novel. It's about two young people, a man in his 20s and his female cousin who is in her early teens. The man, who clearly has some psychological problems and is obviously dangerous, coerces the girl to engage in some activities that are clearly inappropriate, especially...more
I would give this book 3.5 stars. With that said....

I fell in love with Delia, the mother, right away. Her views on life and the human mind were thought provoking and contained an ethereal beauty to it. I could only dream of ever expelling such a thought process as hers.

This then brings me to the main character of little Josie. Oates always gives her characters such life, she can delve into the human psyche and bring about some of the most intriguing characters I've ever read. Josie is another...more
Linda Lipko
Yet another dark Gothic novel by Oates. When I question why I keep coming back to her books, the answer is simple: Because she can tap into the underbelly and the dark side of motivation and the human condition as few other writers can.

During the 1950's, Josie is eleven years old. Her mother Delia is self absorbed and selfish. Delia leaves Josie's father at a time when few women simply did such a thing. They move to a Great Aunt's house in upstate New York where they are perceived as burdens.

Lisa Guidarini
I'm a fervent fan of Joyce Carol Oates, though I'll admit I don't appreciate all her works equally. I hate to use the judgment "like," as it isn't professional in a critical approach to a book, so I'll say I partially appreciated 'First Love,' with a few reservations. (And I do wish more reviews focused more on criticism and not direct "like" or "dislike." Things are seldom so cut and dried, though I've been lazy in that exact same way myself, so I'm not without sin.)

Even considering my familiar...more
Mariano Hortal
"El primer amor" es una de esas novelitas cortas que de vez en cuando se marca la gran escritora Joyce Carol Oates. En este caso tenemos la historia de una madre y una hija que tienen que trasladarle a una pequeña villa norteamericana, una villa al azar ("Ramsonville"). Allí la niña descubrirá el amor, o al menos lo que cree que es el amor ("Tú no lo llamarías amor si pudieras ponerle otro nombre") a través de su primo aspirante a sacerdote que la saca 14 años. Es un Coming of age desde la perve...more
Dani Peloquin
First Love is a compelling novella that tells the story of an eleven year of girl named Josie whose mother leaves her father and decides to take Josie away to upstate New York where the two will live with her aunt. Josie soon realizes, that she has never met this aunt before and that the aunt is infact her GREAT aunt whom her mother has not seen for decades. Josie is an inquisitive girl, which her mother finds troubling at times, who finds it difficult to settle into her great aunt's house where...more
Warning: Discussion about sexual assault

This is a novella that I picked up to read in my library while waiting for an appointment. It took me a half hour to complete. I am starting to think I should create a separate shelf called 'Oates writes about sexual assault' I think almost if not all of her novels that I have read would be on it.

I love love love Joyce Carol Oates' writing. She is hands down one of my favorite writers. I have never read another author like her with the command to create su...more
Santh memories
A gothic tale with its main character of eleven years old girl named Josi S­­ who has come with her mother, Delia S to live in her great-aunt Esther Burkhardt’s house in upstate New York – after the divorce of her parent.
Also living there is Josie’s cousin – Jared Jr. – on leave from the Presbyterian seminary. Preoccupied with his studies, impeccably dressed in his starched white shirts, distant, and mysterious, Jared Jr., is an intriguing figure to Josie’s curios and impressionable young mind....more
Lori Anderson
Feb 03, 2009 Lori Anderson rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: not really anyone

I was looking for something else in the library when I passed the shelves of Joyce Carol Oates books. As I've read and enjoyed a couple of hers, I grabbed two.

This was a fast read, being only 86 half pages (the book is the size of a Book of Common Prayer). Thank goodness it was short.

In 86 pages she packed a lot of disturbing things -- an eleven-year old's brushes with incest, neglect, violations and scarafactions, self-mutilation, and a near murder. Holy crap, I was glad w...more
I picked this book up for 25 cents at a public library years ago and finally got around to reading it. Only 86 pages in a half-sized book; more of a short story than a novel. It disappointed me. It was too brief--it's voice too aloof to pull me into the story enough to respond strongly to what should have caused shock and anger. The people in it were pathetic. Next to Oates' longer books that offer complicated characters who become real enough to care about, it seemed to skim or withhold words a...more
Scary, revolting, riveting. Excellent writing! An 11-year-old girl falls under the sway of her disturbed 23-year-old cousin. He is a seminary student with bizarre tastes, and their grandmother's darling.
Raw. Disturbing, yet wonderfully beautiful. Joyce Carol Oates stirs religious fanatics, taboo love, uninvited lust, class, adolescence, physical and mental abuse in a story that reeks of infirmity and death. Every single character suffers from a malady of excess, whether it's romantic or family love (often intertwined here), acceptance, vanity and Godliness/holiness. Each character is trapped into a world, a situation, a physical or mental barrier that prevents him/her from discovering their tru...more
Heather Colacurcio
This is the first Joyce Carol Oates book I've read, and I'm quite impressed. "First Love" is extremely short, coming in at a mere 85 pages. However, in those 85 short pages, Oates crafts a disturbing tale concerning a young girl and her cousin. Oates walks a controversial line, but I won't say what that line is here. What I will say is that this novel is about confusion; the confusion of youth, the confusion of religion and the confusion of family. This novel isn't enjoyable, but it's certainly...more
Jereme Gray
I really wanted to like this book. It's presentation is marvelous. Tiny slim volume and the woodcuts are fantastic. But I had a very hard time with the writing. I would have to compare with the author's other works, I have Sourland already loaded up on the Kindle, to get a real gauge of her style.
I had a hard time with the choppy, erratic, sentence fragments. This might be what Oates was going for. It does add a terse feel of anxiety that is unsettling, and I think we're supposed to be unsettle...more
Christian Engler
In this novella, JCO, has added yet another masterpiece to her already voluminous collection. In a blue/middle collar environment, innocence is lost by a man who, in the future, would become a man of the cloth. It is a story that mirrors so much of what is visible in the news today of people who think that they are above the law. JCO shows the irony of the molester who is studying to be holy and virtuous in the eyes of God, but acts and committs in the name of unthinkable, selfish evil, which se...more
Lyrical. Twisted. Amazing. That's about all I can say; words elude me.
There was more to this text that what is taken away from the surface. I probably could have given this more thought but I read the whole thing on an airplane to New York City and then got excited about seeing the city while landing so I didn't dwell upon it much.
This was a rather odd novella about a pre-teen's first "romance," which is with her religious and mentally disturbed twenty-five year old cousin. That sentence alone is rather disturbing. Her mother is too busy with her own flirtations to pay much attention to the cuts and bruises that begin to appear on her daughter as the two cousins engage in bondage and other forms of abuse. I'm not sure what to take from this other than to think what a fucked up introduction into the world of adults.
Lori Weir
"Fear is good, fear is normal. Fear will save your life." Oates begins her story with this warning on the first page, and ends with it just four paragraphs from the end. It is the story of a family that fell apart, and the harm that falls upon the innocent.

Oates pulls the reader into the twisted web of abuse and pain of the main character while also revealing the anguish and ugliness of the abuser. Although it is a short novel, it is definately worth reading. And reading over again!
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Rebecca Hayes
I read this because it's October and I was looking for something satisfyingly spooky to read. This was touted as 'Gothic' and the plot summary sounded ominous; however it wasn't 'scary' spooky, it was twisted and dark and creepy. The writing was well done, but the ending was very abrupt and left me hanging. Maybe 'wanting to know more' is a good way to leave a story, but with the dark nature of the material, I really wished it had a better (i.e. more positive) conclusion.
It took me literally two hours to finish this sick little book. Only Joyce Carol Oates can conjure up something so trashy and moving at the same time. It's the twisted love story of a 25ish year old seminary student who coerces his 12 year old cousin into playing perverted sexual games with him in their creepy upstate NY mansion. With gothic elements and echoing vintage Daphne Du Maurier, it's definitely a fun read, but something not worth picking up.
I had read this book when I was about 14. I found it used and thought it sounded really good.

The main character is an 11 year old girl. She comes with her mother to new york to live with her aunt and ucle. Also living there is her cousin.

The books deals with incest, neglect, violations, scarafactions, self-mutilation, and murder. Honestly, the book is not bad, but very odd, I guess you can say.
Well, I didn't really read the whole thing. It's a very short book about a young girl (12) and an incestous 25-year-old cousin who is studying to be a minister. I don't know... it seemed kinda creepy, and not engaging enough to continue. Could have something to do with the fact that I recently read Lolita and have had enough of the 12-year-old/older guy stuff.
Quick read that didn't really make me want to write a review. Definitely great writing, but you wouldn't expect anything less. Some clever switching back and forth from first to second person, which I liked. Not a recommendation, but an easy read that I picked up while browsing the library last week.
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Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is also the recipient of the 2005 Prix Femina for The Falls. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and she has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. Pseudonyms ... Rosamond Smith and Laure...more
More about Joyce Carol Oates...
We Were the Mulvaneys The Falls The Gravedigger's Daughter Blonde Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang

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“If I try to summon back his face, the sound of his voice, and the sensation in my stomach like a key turning in a lock when he touched me, I lose everything.” 63 likes
“From Mother you will inherit the belief that you can journey to your fate, there's a place to be located on a map that's destiny. If only you can get there. If it isn't too late. If no one stops you.” 9 likes
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