This book likes to take you out of your comfort zone with specialist terminology and Spanish words. Some parts read almost like an inter-language. It's difficult, and I would have probably preferred an easier read, but at the same time I'm learning, so whatever. Good book: very very American indeed.(less)
My 150-page edition included the title short story alone, surrounded by a thorough introduction, the disturbing 1964 TIME article from which the story...moreMy 150-page edition included the title short story alone, surrounded by a thorough introduction, the disturbing 1964 TIME article from which the story took its inspiration, and several critical essays.
I didn't agree with the essays too much. One compared the story to folk tales like "The Pied Piper," another compares with a Hawthorne story, another makes the case that the encounter is entirely dreamed, another picks up on the imagery of Christian evil, another compares the short story and the TIME article source, and another teases out pop culture references which are presented with the same sinister undercurrent as that beneath Arnold Friend's deceptive appearance.
I really liked the story a lot. What dominated my thoughts during and after were not any of the above. Although it was realist in style, I felt it was strongly allegorical (Oats herself has professed this of her own story). Like Milton's satan, Friend wears Connie down with cleverness with words, not with his appearance, which is monstrous. What are his attacks?
1. The screen door can easily be smashed, he warns her. "Why lock it. It's just a screen door, It's just nothing." 2. The parents are at the BBQ and having a good time. He ain't coming. 3. I am (already) your lover. Our relationship is/will be just like one between adults. 4. We have your favourite music in the car (the GOLD car!) 5. "you washed your hair and you washed it for me. It's nice and shining and all for me. I thank you sweetheart." 6. "Connie, don't fool around with me. I mean - I mean, don't fool AROUND," he said, shaking his head incredulously." 7. Finally, her family is threatened.
Her behavior is Zombie-like by the time she goes out to be embraced by Friend - that evocative final line, "so much land that Connie had never seen before and did not recognize except to know that she was going to it" is frightening for what it omits, as if the narrator has also been hypnotised by Friend's rationale.
So I do think that we are supposed to see some social allegory here. The rationale of Friend are a fit a predatory masculine sexuality which is coercive with an impoverished logic rather than primitive sexual drive. The rationale reflects a presumption of ownership, of the hopelessness of resistance, of the implicit violence which is only needs to be subtly raised to intimidate; all wrapped up with the corny language of love.
The prelude to Connie's actual meeting with Friend seem to set Connie up as a regular suburban girl. She follows rules, happily. Oats does not to try to make us adore her (her character is true to adolescence). She just shows her life to be ordinary; also in her romantic life. Though a virgin (presumably - we are not told otherwise), she is seeing boys and hanging out in adult-like social settings.
The notion that a devil figure like Friend should turn up on her doorstep is a downright non sequitir, from a narrative point of view. It is surely supposed to alarm us for its arbitrary cause and for rapidly overwhelming the settled scene.
Some of the critical essays included in my edition have pointed out there is something heroic about Connie's sacrifice. I myself saw her sacrifice as entirely coerced, but I admit that it's a fact that the text has Connie's family indirectly threatened before she capitulates. Still, I find this interpretation difficult to reconcile with her rapturous imagination of "so much land." I leave it to you to decide, but I will say that Connie is far from without options. Friend drives a gold car. He is so inconspicuous that he seems to have stepped out of a fairy tale. The threat is not so convincing as to require submission out of nobility. Connie's options are always open. It is a plain, sunlit day. She has a lock between she and him. She could run and jump fences in her back garden. She could scream and scream again.
There is no "checkmate" by Friend. The situation, rather, is made to seem impossible by two things: his superficial adornments, and his appeals to what is "normal", "mature", "expected."
edit: 31/07/2014: I shortened and improved the review(less)