The Female of the Species

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2007-01-15
  • Publisher: Mariner Books
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A young wife is home alone when the phone rings in "So Help Me God." Is the strange voice flirting with her from the other end of the line her jealous husband laying a trap, or a stranger who knows entirely too much about her? In "Madison at Guignol" an unhappy fashionista discovers a secret door inside her favorite clothing store and insists the staff let her enter. But even her fevered imagination cannot anticipate the horror they have been hiding from her. In these and other gripping and disturbing tales, women are confronted by the evil around them and surprised by the evil they find within themselves. With wicked insight, Joyce Carol Oates demonstrates why the females of the species-be they six-year-old girls, seemingly devoted wives, or aging mothers-are by nature more deadly than the males.

Author Biography

JOYCE CAROL OATES is the recipient of the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction and the winner of the National Book Award. Among her major works are We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde, and The Falls. She lives in New Jersey. 

Table of Contents

Contents So Help Me God
The Banshee
Doll: A Romance of the Mississippi
Madison at Guignol
The Haunting
Tell Me You Forgive Me?
Angel of Wrath
Angel of Mercy
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


Phone rings. My cousin Andrea answers.It's a pelting-rain weekday evening last April, just past 7 P.M. and dark as midnight.Without so much as glancing toward me, Andrea picks up the receiver as if she's in her own home and not mine, shifting her infant daughter onto her left hip in a way that makes you think of a migrant farmwife in a classic Walker Evans photograph of the 1930s.Phone rings! I will wish I'd snatched the receiver from her hand, slammed it down before any words were exchanged.But Andrea is answering in her wishing-to-be-surprised high school voice, not taking time to squint at the caller ID my husband, a St. Lawrence County law enforcement officer, has had installed for precisely these evenings when he's on the night shift and his young wife is alone in this house in the country except for the accident of Andrea dropping by with the baby and interfering with my life."Yes? Who is this?"Andrea laughs, blinking and staring past me. Whoever is on the other end of the line is intriguing to her, I can see.I'm checking the digital code which has come up UNAVAILABLE.Sometimes it reads NO DATA GIVEN, which is the same as UNAVAILABLE and a signal you don't want to pick up. At least, I don't. In Au Sable Forks, which is the center and circumference of my world, everyone is acquainted with everyone else and has been so since grade school. It's rare that an unknown name comes up; I can count on the fingers of one hand the people likely to be calling me at this or any hour, which is why ordinarily I'd have let UNAVAILABLE leave a message on the machine, figuring it must be for my husband.UNAVAILABLE could be anyone. Like a hulking individual on your doorstep, wearing a ski mask- do you open the door?I could wring Andrea's neck the way she's smiling, shaking her head, "Which one? Who?" opening the damn door wide. Wish I'd never called her this afternoon hinting I was lonely.This pelting rain! The kind of rain that hammers at your head like unwanted thoughts.Andrea hands over the phone, saying in a low thrilled voice, "It's this person won't identify himself, but I think it's Pitman."Pitman! My husband. His first name is Luke but everyone calls him Pitman.Andrea shivers giving me the receiver. There has been this shivery thing between her and Pitman dating back to before Pitman and I were married. When I'm in a suspicious mood I think it might predate my meeting Pitman when I was fourteen, an honors student vowing to remain a virgin all my life. I've never confronted either of them.Pitman says my daddy injected my vertebrae with Rayburn family pride, why I walk like there's a broomstick up my rear. Why I'm so stiff (Pitman is just teasing!) in bed."Yes? Who is this please?" I'm determined to remain cool and poised, for Pitman and I parted early this morning with some harsh words flung about on both our sides like gravel. My husband is known as a man who flares up quickly in anger but, flaring down-which can be just

Excerpted from The Female of the Species: Tales of Mystery and Suspense by Joyce Carol Oates
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