Review: Night, Neon by Joyce Carol Oates

I find it somewhat challenging to review short story collections… and yet this is my second in the last couple of years from Joyce Carol Oates. It’s safe to say that I am a fan of her stories.

What it’s about

From literary icon Joyce Carol Oates comes a brand new collection of haunting and, at times, darkly humorous mystery suspense stories. These are tales of psyches pushed to their limits by the expectations of everyday life—from a woman who gets lost on her drive home to her plush suburban home and ends up breaking into a stranger’s house, to a first-person account of a cloned 1940s magazine pinup girl being sold at auction and embodying America’s ideals of beauty and womanhood.

Taken as a whole, the collection forms a poignant tapestry of regular people searching for their place in a social hierarchy, often with devastating and disastrous results. Rendered with stylish, fresh writing from an author who continues to push the envelope, the stories deftly weave in and out of a stream-of-consciousness to reflect the ways we process traumatic experiences and impart that uncertainty and uneasiness to the reader.

Originally appearing in publications as disparate as Harper’s, Vice, and Conjunctions, the stories comprising Night, Neon showcase Oates’ mastery of the suspense story—and her relentless use of the form to conduct unapologetically honest explorations of American identity.

My thoughts

This collection is so good… each story full of suspense, slowly unfurling mystery, and memorable characters in uncomfortable situations. If you’re familiar with Joyce Carol Oates’ work, it will come as no surprise to find underlying themes of feminism and societal issues threaded through each of the stories. Oates is a brilliant writer, and if I could wish for anything different in this collection, it would be that a few of these stories could developed out in to full novels.

The stories that I loved: Detours, the first story in the book, sets the tone of the collection and left me unsettled, like a super plausible confusing nightmare, but in the best possible way. Miss Golden Dreams finds Oates revisiting Marilyn Monroe in a very creative, in-your-face feminist fashion. The first half of Wanting is uncomfortable and tense, and the second half is downright terrifying. Intimacy was disturbing in its relatability and made me uneasy throughout. Vaping: A User’s Manual is a heartbreaking trip through a troubled adolescent boy’s mind that I cannot seem to stop thinking about. The titular Night, Neon was my favorite: so upsetting and full of creeping dread… I would love that one to be a full-length novel.

Even the stories that I loved a little less than these are still intense and interesting. I can honestly say there wasn’t a story among this collection of nine that I didn’t enjoy.

I was fortunate to receive an audio ARC of Night, Neon and I was very impressed with both narrators. Joe Hempel narrates the stories from male perspectives, while Chelsea Stephens masterfully reads the stories about and told by women. I highly recommend the audiobook version.

Thanks to NetGalley and HighBridge Audio for my copy in exchange for this honest review.


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