Ode to Joyce

Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates

“Meet Quentin P_, he is the most believable and thoroughly terrifying sexual psychopath and killer ever to be brought to live in fiction.” Is written on the back of one of the books of the famous writer Joyce Carol Oates, Zombie.
Joyce Carol Oates is one of the world’s most celebrated writers of our time, she has won numerous awards and has written dozens of novels, short stories and poetry.
In Zombie she tells the story of Quentin P_, the son of a professor and a housewife. As normal as his family is, he couldn’t be more different. Quentin P_ has only one dream: to create a zombie. In a medical book he reads how to accomplish a successful lobotomy, but every attempt fails and his specimen, as he calls his victims, die every time. The reason why Quentin wants to create a zombie is that he wants someone who will obey his every will. He has never been fully accepted by society, being as mentally disorderd as he is, and so has never had a friend or anyone he could relate to. If he, as he thinks himself, could succeed in creating a zombie, he would have someone that both would compensate for the lack of a friend in his live and a sexual slave.

“A true zombie would be mine forever. He would obey every command & whim. Saying “Yes, Master” & “No, Master.” He would kneel before me lifting his eyes to me saying, “I love you, Master. There is no one but you, Master.”
& so it would come to pass, & so it would be. For a true ZOMBIE could not say a thing that was not, only a thing that was. His eyes would be open & clear but there would be nothing inside them seeing. & nothing behind them thinking. Nothing passing judgment. “

With Zombie Joyce Carol Oates does something I’ve rarely seen before, she doesn’t write about Quentin, she enters his mind and shows us the doings of a mentally sick man. His plotting to abduct a young boy, his remorseless killing, but also the way he sees his family and his earnestness to do his caretaker job well in the eyes of his father.
Joyce Carol Oates uses a very special writing style to capture Quentin’s way of thinking, for example: he refers only to himself with Q_ P_. In the entire book he never writes a name fully out and when he thinks about his victims, he uses nicknames, such as BUNNYGLOVES and SQUIRREL. He writes these names with capitals, but also other words he finds important, like CARETAKER and ZOMBIE. When Quentin should be using capitals, he doesn’t, beginning a sentence with ‘&’ and dialogues exist out of: “and he said. & then I said”, leaving you only with guesswork of what exactly they’re speaking of.

Quentin P_’s is a disgusting protagonist, he’s a monster and the most frightening thing is, he isn’t a vampire, werewolf or a zombie, he’s human. The thought that someone like him could be living in the same country, city or maybe even the same neighborhood as you are…
Even more terrifying is that Quentin P_’s live is loosely based on the live of a real serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer. ike Dahmer, Quentin P_ only killed males and boys, but the most   the most remarkable resemblance is that both of them wanted to create a zombie. That someone exactly like Quentin existed, scares me a lot.

“Dahmer got the idea that he could create “zombies” of his victims, and attempted to do so by drilling holes into their skulls and injecting hydrochloric acid into their brains.”
Source: Wikipedia

The book is an accumulation of horrifying events and thoughts of Quentin P_ , that climaxes in the end. The things he does are sick, but what the most utterly disturbing part of the whole book is, is  the feeling of some kind of pity for Quentin. Maybe pity isn’t the right word, neither is understanding (for of course I’ll never exactly understand a psychopath), but it’s something that makes you see why Quentin acts the way he does. As soon as you feel it, you want to throw the book away, never open it again. How is it possible to feel pity  for a serial killer that kills only for his own ends?  The answer is: Joyce Carol Oates. She shows us the two sides of Quentin’s story. The pity may only last for two terrifying seconds, but nonetheless, you felt it… Joyce Carol Oates makes Quentin almost relatable, no one else but her could make a portrait of serial killer so realistic.

Would I recommend this book to anyone? No. Do I think everyone should read it? Yes.
I never wrote such a contradiction about a book before. Since I’ve read this book, there’s been one thing I’ve been wondering about:  Is a protagonist with whom one can sympathize more important than the writing style and the story, or not? Normally answering this question would have been easy, but in this case Joyce Carol Oates provokes confusing feelings. Zombie’s protagonist is horrifying, but the way she wrote Zombie is astonishing. The sympathizing with the main character is in this case less important than the writing. Only Joyce Carol Oates could have done that.

Yeva Swart

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Ode to Joyce

  1. Great article and thanks for the book review. As well thank you for linking to our serial killer resource website.

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