Karen's Reviews > A Fair Maiden

A Fair Maiden by Joyce Carol Oates
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's review
Feb 23, 2010

really liked it
Read in February, 2010

It's been awhile since I've updated my goodreads and I am pleased to start with JCO's newest (slim) novel, A Fair Maiden which I liked all the way up to the very last chapter, which confused me. Despite the sense of uncertainty I got from that last chapter, the rest of this book was smooth sailing--beautiful writing, near perfect characterization (almost said "characters" but the word "perfect" wouldn't fit them), a building dread as the plot unfolds a. . . friendship? love affair? abusive situation? all of the above? . . . between a fifteen-year-old nanny and a wealthy old man who seeks her out and begins an odd and disturbing relationship. The nanny begins to pose for the man's paintings and he nudges their friendship over the boundaries of acceptability. Yet at the same time, he might be the only person who has ever truly cared about fifteen-year-old Katya. This uncertainty makes the plot work. What is actually going on? What are the old man's motivations? He is, on some levels, a user. On others, he is a life preserver for Katya. Of course, it can't end well. How exactly it ended is the biggest mystery for me--that final chapter feels so entirely different from the rest of the book that I finished it wondering if what happened within was Katya's imagination. Wish I could sit down with JCO and have a talk. Nonetheless, I highly recommend this read.

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