Title: Cardiff, by the Sea
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Narrator: Lauren Ezzo
Genre: Domestic Thriller
Publisher: Mysterious Press
Source: ARC via NetGalley (in exchange for an honest review)
Length: 288p./11hrs, 20min
Publishing Date: 06 October 2020

There’s something about being stuck inside your house in isolation that really sets the perfect mood for escaping into mysteries and thrillers. For me, the more gothic vibes a book gives off, the deeper into it I fall. Joyce Carol Oates’ latest — a collection of four novellas — was no exception. Not only is Cardiff, by the Sea full of slow-burning suspense, there’s a distinct Northeastern Gothic element that calls into question who is more haunted: the characters or the setting?

Cardiff, By the Sea, while not the setting of any of the novellas but the first, does hint at the themes that weave each story together. Specifically, how intricately place and memory are tied together and what happens when our bodies remember things our brains don’t want to. Claire, the main character in the titular novella, has to piece together a now-fractured narrative of her childhood based on the interviews of strangers. In Miao Dao, the experience of abandonment is explored through the eyes of Mia, a pubescent girl whose only friends (and protectors) are a colony of feral cats. Whose fault was it? is a question that beats under the surface of not just these two stories, but the collection as a whole. The answer of my fault follows as an echo and omen in the wake of each female protagonist.

She realizes the man’s power is to intimidate, to make you ashamed.

Joyce Carol oates, miao Dao

With Phantomwise: 1972, the true inspirations for Alice in Wonderland are discussed as young, brilliant (and pregnant) Alice begins working for a famous poet who is a visiting professor at the college she attends. None of this is known in the beginning, though; just that someone is trying to kill Alice. Finally, in The Younger Child, we return to the haunted home theme established in the first novella. Strong Rebecca vibes mix with references to Sylvia Plath (and her relationship with Hughes) in this final story, where Elizabeth must navigate life as a step-mother to the surviving child of a murder-suicide that happened in the house she now lives in. Stephan, the little boy, was found hiding in a closet but with the absence of a suicide note, no one knows why he was spared. Oates really explores nature versus nurture as she tries to answer the question: what drives a person to madness (to murder, to suicide)?

But you know I’m not gone, Elizabeth. I’ve come for you and the boy.

Joyce Carol Oates, The Younger child

Cardiff, by the Sea, is a chilling collection of novellas that serve as a reminder that the monster is usually already inside the house, if not inside ourselves.

This Literary Life is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This in no way affects my opinion of the book(s) included in this post.

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