Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Series: Dark Corners Collection #4
Publisher: Amazon Original Stories
First Published: September 27, 2018
Genres: Coming of Age, Horror
Source: Prime Reading
A girl comes of age with a vengeance—and help from a friend—in a tale of unnerving suspense from National Book Award winner and literary master Joyce Carol Oates.
Bad things have been happening since Mia began to mature. Her dad left. Boys at school can’t keep their hands to themselves. A lecherous stepfather has moved in. Her only refuge is an abandoned lot on her suburban cul-de-sac, crawling with feral felines—one of which follows Mia home. Ghostly white and affectionate, she is Mia’s new companion and—as Mia’s tormenters will soon discover—her fierce protector.
Of the Dark Corners stories I’ve read so far, I can tell already that Miao Dao will probably be my favorite and is by far one of the strongest entries in the series. I thought I knew what I was getting into when I picked this novella up – thinking it’d be a story about a supernatural killer cat, but what I got was so much more.
To me there are two distinct schools of horror – those that are pure fantasy, usually monsters or some other form of paranormal activity; and then there is the kind of horror that is grounded in the real world, the type of everyday horror that is chilling because of how common it is. Miao Dao definitely fell into the latter category as the real horror was not the mysterious feral cats but the people surrounding Mia.
“She realizes: the man’s power is to intimidate, to make you ashamed. But your power over him is the power of laughter.”
Puberty can be one of the most terrifying points in a girl’s life, not just because of the change in physical appearance but the change in the type of attention that young women receive. When I look back on my own years as a developing young woman I shudder remembering how uncomfortable I was in my own skin, the way that men far older than me began to leer. Mia feels exposed and imagines going back to childhood when her body and sexuality wasn’t a pressure point. I could relate to Mia’s fear of her maturity on a level that to me was deeply unsettling.
Adding further to Mia’s struggle with puberty she is also faced with the stress of divorce and the uncomfortable struggle to play family with a new stepfather, a stranger intruding on her family life. There is nothing I love more than an unreliable narrator, and the tone in this novella was scattered, intense, like a balloon ready to burst as Mia lurches into the terrifying world of adults. This was the second short story that I’ve read by Joyce Carol Oates and it has turned me into a fan of her writing.
Warnings: Animal abuse, bullying, sexual harassment, rape
- Was puberty stressful for you?
- Do you think that puberty and the male gaze can be scary?
- If you read this story, what do you think of Miao Dao, real or imagined?