The Tattooed Girl
Joyce Carol Oates
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Joshua Seigl, a celebrated but reclusive author, is forced for reasons of failing health to surrender his much-prized bachelor's independence. Advertising for an assistant, he unwittingly embarks upon the most dangerous adventure of his privileged life.
Alma Busch, a sensuous, physically attractive young woman with bizarre tattoos covering much of her body, stirs in Seigl a complex of emotions: pity? desire? responsibility? guilt? Unaware of her painful past and her troubled personality, Seigl hires her as his assistant. As the novel alternates between Seigl's and Alma's points of view, the naïve altruism of the one and the virulent anti-Semitism of the other clash in a tragedy of thwarted erotic desire.
With her masterful balance of dark suspense and surprising tenderness, Joyce Carol Oates probes the contemporary tragedy of ethnic hatred and challenges our accepted limits of desire. The Tattooed Girl may be her most controversial novel.
From Publishers Weekly
© Publishers Weekly
Great upstate NY story and characters.
Shades of Ignorance
On page 5, I was already shaking my head at how good this book was. Oates, while sometimes not reaching the same almost-feverish emotional reactions I get from reading her greatest books, never disappoints. And this is one of the wild and disturbed ones. Joshua, who is funny, fussy, nitpicky, another great example of a teacher/writer that seems to be prevalent in her books, decides, in the uncertainty of his changing health, to hire an assistant.
Oates expertly displays how one can form opinions based on simply what one is told by someone they love and trust. Also, she is a master at perception. Alma and Joshua's opinions of each other are so different, and yet, when you see the other from the other's eyes, you believe and see how each comes to their own conclusion.
If you want to pin down the "villain" of the piece, it is difficult, for everyone in the book has their redeeming and unpleasant qualities. And yet, with the amount of ignorance and hate, it is all balanced by a nuanced portrayal of the characters, with subtext, and back story supplying the logic and organic thoughts of each.
However, the ultimate "villain" can never be who you will expect, when Oates writes a book, and with a book with something so caustic and hateful at the core, only someone as good as Oates can turn the tables so convincingly and emotionally, getting you instantly to change sides and realign who you root for.
This book made me confront my own experiences with ignorance, whether my own, or ignorance directed at me. And in the case of Alma, or the girl I met at a greyhound station who harmlessly commented that she'd known she'd met her first Jewish man by the "Channukah(sic) on his head"; as violent or "innocuous" as ignorance can be, it has its many shades, and can still contribute to things like the events in this book. This is great, typical Oates.