Short Take: “Miao Dao,” Joyce Carol Oates

Pros: Utterly engrossing
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

Joyce Carol Oates’s novella Miao Dao (Dark Corners collection) is a surreal story about an adolescent girl who’s having a hard time with her blossoming figure. She tries her best to hide in plain sight–a trick she learned from the feral cats who live next door to her–by wearing baggy clothes and hunching forward. She flees from the boys who tease her. Her father divorces her mother and leaves the two of them and Mia’s two younger brothers, and soon another man comes into her mother’s life–a man who, over time, starts displaying too much interest in Mia. When someone calls Animal Control and clears out the feral colony, Mia takes in a tiny white kitten she calls Miao Dao.

I have almost no idea what to say about Miao Dao. It’s a surreal, smooth narrative that’s hard to describe. It has an unearthly, dream-like quality to it, and sometimes reality seems a bit fluid. It’s hard to say much without giving things away; I’ll just say that while the ending is a bit hard to totally make sense of, it’s muddled in a way that seems to add to the story (in my opinion) rather than subtracting from it. If you need all your details spelled out for you, this isn’t a story for you. But if you don’t mind feeling a little strange and disjointed by the end of your horror fiction, then give this a read. Certainly if you’re a Joyce Carol Oates fan you’ll have much to look forward to here.

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