What's in Your HEEEEEAD? (Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates)

June 14, 2013 Crime, Frightening, Psychological, Zombies 47

Hello Bookworms,

Today we’re going dark. I’m talking pit-of-despair dark. I just finished reading Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates. I purchased it because I like Joyce Carol Oates, I like zombies, and I like Kindle books offered at sale prices. Much to my disappointment, this wasn’t about zombies in the traditional sense. Although, it had quite a bit to do with BRAAAAAAINS.


You ever watch Criminal Minds or Hannibal or Dexter and get completely creeped out to be inside the mind of a serial killer? Yeah. Well, if those give you nightmares, skip this book. Our narrator, Quentin aka Q_P_ is a very sick man. He is obsessed with the idea of kidnapping a young man and giving him a lobotomy. An ice pick lobotomy. A One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest lobotomy. Q_P_ wants a human-like creature to be his slave. To cater to his sexual whims. To do his bidding without question. Q_P_ dreams about it. Obsesses.

Q_P_ makes several attempts to carry out his plans. On his first attempt, he was caught with his test subject. The mentally disabled boy managed to escape Q_P_’s pedophile wagon during the initial sexual assault. No ice pick ever neared his eye sockets, and Q_P_ is merely charged as a sex offender. After his arrest, Q_P_ is treated by a respected psychiatrist, he participates in group therapy, he lives in a dwelling with other people, and he’s visited regularly by a parole officer. All attempts at rehabilitation are being made, but Q_P_ is clever. He STILL manages to carry on with his illicit activities, in spite of the heavy monitoring.

In some ways, being inside Q_P_’s head reminded me of reading Lolita, particularly when he’s obsessing about and stalking a teenage boy he dubbed “SQUIRREL.” Q_P_ shared Humbert Humbert’s peculiar fascination for the underage set, though Q_P_ preferred the dudes to the ladies. I never would have thought I’d hold Humbert Humbert up as a paragon of virtue, but he never did attempt to perform an ice pick lobotomy on anyone…

You won't ruin squirrels for me, scary book. I won't let you! (Image Source)

You won’t ruin squirrels for me, scary book. I won’t let you! (Image Source)

I’m not really sure what else to say. It was a well written book, and Oates got under my skin as she always does… But thank heaven it’s fiction. The subject matter was beyond my comfort zone, but the writing was so compelling I couldn’t put it down. I don’t feel that I can say that I liked it though, because it seriously disturbed me. You’d think I’d learn to read the abstracts by now! I tolerate ACTUAL zombie lore much better than this tale of zombies… I prefer the scary things in my books remain firmly on the side of the scientifically impossible, and there are real Q_P_ types out there. Heebie jeebies all around.

I know there’s a set that digs serial killer stories. It’s practically a genre unto itself, really. Is this type of story your thing? Is the allure getting inside the dark and twisty mind of the homicidal? I’m curious to hear your take on it, Bookworms. Anybody out there a fan of the genre? What appeals to you? What pushes you beyond your comfort zone?

47 Responses to “What's in Your HEEEEEAD? (Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates)”

  1. JoulesDellinger

    Nope, totally not my cup of tea. Which is funny because I love CSI and Bones. I’ve always had an issue with reading books about cheating/affairs… and now that i have a kid I have absolutely no tolerance for the pedophile angle. Blegh!

    • Words for Worms

      I have a weird issue reading about the obese sometimes. I always feel like the authors aren’t sympathetic enough to the plight or something.

  2. Mary

    Not really a fan of zombie fiction, but I am a HUGE (can I change font sizes in comments?) fan of Joyce Carol Oates. That woman is my idle. And almost everything she writes about is beyond my comfort zone. Okay okay, an exaggeration, but she’s phenomenal at creating raw, dark settings and emotions, it’s hard to believe a tiny, soft-spoken woman of 74 could write like that. Lovelovelove.

    But to answer your question… maybe Anne Rice’s “The Mummy”… how about that sex scene WITH the mummy? That was a little eehhh…. o.O. (<–that's me trying to use my words).

    • Words for Worms

      She’s the master of the raw and dark. We Were the Mulvaneys… Just. WOW. So much of what she writes is so different too, she’s got a talent for switching things up and not being pidgeonholed.

      • Mary

        For sure. I’m on a mission to read every one of her books (and attempting to blog about it too) and her topics vary so much. It’s amazing.

          • Mary

            You are wicked fast. And thank you! Don’t expect updates too often though. I balance JCO books with other books otherwise I will fall into despair. She’s awesome, but homegirl makes me hyperaware of all my senses at the same time.

  3. Andi Miller

    I tried reading this one years ago, and something about it just didn’t jive for me, which is weird because I love Oates. Somehow the voice of the narrator didn’t ring true. Can’t put my finger on it much more than that. I’m glad it worked out better for you, even if it did scare the stuffing out of ya!

    • Words for Worms

      I hate when that happens! Sometimes when I read dialogue that’s supposed to come out of teenagers I just get mad. I’ll be like “no teenager talks like that!” I get it when the voice just sounds wrong to you. I spose I didn’t have a preconceived notion of how a serial killer should sound LOL!

  4. Amanda

    I love zombie books, but this is completely out of my comfort zone (as is Lolita, which I’m hesitant to read). I mean, as far as disgust goes I’m okay with gore and I’m okay with sex scenes but add those two together and make it a serial killer and I’m probably out. Maybe I should widen my horizons, but this is the kind of book I’d never pick up in a bookstore. Still, an interesting read I guess 🙂

    • Words for Worms

      I don’t think I’ll be reading many more serial killer tomes. Not really my bag. But zombies? Awww heck yeah. What’s your fave? I could use a new one!

  5. Ashley F

    I’ve come to the conclusion that Joyce Carol Oates is just kinda crazy. I mean I had to read “Rape: A Love Story” when I was in University and I was disturbed. I’m disturbed just reading this synopsis.

    Btw…..Hannibal is filmed in Toronto so you’re seeing my city!!!

    • Words for Worms

      I don’t watch Hannibal, I tried an episode and it was too much for me. I prefer my television funny 🙂 although I do make an exception for Dexter. Vigilante serial killing of bad guys seems less repugnant.

      • Ashley F

        LOL I like a good Psychopath. It’s funny watching it because they use some very recognizable locations.

  6. Megan M.

    I don’t need another thing to worry about possibly happening to me. I am full up on murder, rape, and torture scenarios. I hate shows that glorify that kind of thing – especially Criminal Minds. HOWEVER, if I’m really interested in the story and I feel it’s well-done, I will subject myself to some things, like Dexter (although I haven’t seen the last few seasons.) I’m much more comfortable with what I consider to be completely fictional violence, as in zombie and vampires.

    • Words for Worms

      Ha! I was just saying that I like Dexter, and I think it’s because he’s cleaning up the bad guys LOL. He’d take out Q_P_. I can’t handle most serial killer shows either. I’m with you on the zombies and vamps!

  7. kristinshafel

    I have been wanting to read Joyce Carol Oates for a while now… would this be a good one to start with? Thanks for the great review!

    • Words for Worms

      Hmmmm…. I think We Were the Mulvaneys or The Falls are better to start with. Foxfire was good too (but infinitely different than the movie.) They are all disturbing in their own ways, but if this were the first book of hers I’d read, I’m not sure I’d read more. The creepy factor just made me so uncomfortable.

      • kristinshafel

        Okay, thanks for the recommendations! I do like creepy factors in books sometimes, so I’ll keep this one on my TBR to get to eventually. Something about summer makes me feel like reading horror/sci-fi, for some reason…

  8. justJen

    Thanks so much for ‘reading this for me’ — your excellent review left me with no doubt that I would not want to squirm my way through it. If I picked it up and started it I would HAVE to finish it, now thanks to you I can avoid it! Whew!

    • Words for Worms

      LOL, I figure it’s only fair to let people know if it’s something that’s going to make them miserable, you know? I try to warn about rapes, child abuse, and the like. Everyone’s got a button they’d rather not have pushed when reading for pleasure. Glad I was able to help you avoid a serial killer. If you want real Zombies, go World War Z. Lighter hearted zombies? Warm Bodies. Both firmly fictional! 🙂

  9. Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader

    I have that song in my head now, so thanks 😉

    I dig me some Oates but I haven’t read this one. Q_P_ sounds like a piece of work!

  10. didibooksenglish

    Definitely not my cup of tea even though I love Joyce Carol Oates. That would probably give me nightmares. Funny because I watch CSI, Bones, Criminal Minds too. JCO definitely needs to win the Nobel Peace Prize for Fiction.

    • Words for Worms

      JCO is certainly talented. I’d love for her to win a Nobel Prize. I like it when they pick winners that aren’t too far over my head to enjoy…

  11. Stuff Jeff Reads

    OK, definitely added to my list. Love JCO. I attended a reading of hers while in college. If you have not read it yet, consider checking out “Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque.” It’s a collection of short stories by JCO that are psychologically dark and disturbing. Cheers!

  12. Jennine G.

    I used to be able to read anything. Even Lolita seemed to have enough distance in it that it didn’t seem so sickening. But now, some of the realistic stuff, like pedophiles, kidnapping, child abuse, etc., really bothers me because of my kids. In the past year, I read “A Stolen Life” by Jaycee Dugard (memoir) and “Room” by Emma Donoghue (fiction). Stories of kidnapping and abuse. I was kicking myself for starting them, let alone finishing them. I just read “Dead to You” by Lisa McMann, not knowing what it was about at all. Turns out it’s about kidnapping too and even though it was an after the fact story, it killed me! Ahhhh…I can’t take the stories that involve kids and are all too possible in reality.

    • Words for Worms

      Perhaps that’s why zombies and vampires and other monsters are so popular- we enjoy being scared, but it’s much easier if those things aren’t real. I can’t blame you in the slightest for the aversion to kidnapping and abuse- I mean, for heaven’s sake, it’s kidnapping and abuse!

  13. Lyssapants

    I think I like things that push my comfort zone.
    I was attracted to your description of this book, but that’s why I think I need to NOT read it…….especially cuz I get myself into trouble reading heavy stuff and then trying to survive at work.

  14. Wayne

    I like Ann Rule books like *Small Sacrifices* and *The Green River Killer* but this guy stalking people to perform a lobotomy is a bit much. If I were a Hindu, I’d predict he’d be reborn as a spider or something worse. 🙁

  15. Michelle

    I love serial killer books!!!!! The sicker the better. Mo hayder, Tess gerritsen, Gillian Flynn are all fabulous.

    My fav book of all time is The Treatment by mo hayder. About a serial killer that captures a boy and places him high up in the tree so that he will not smell of women ( to wean him off the smell from his mum)… Yup told you I love weird stuff.

      • Michelle

        Ya i think i will. Amazon now has free shipping to Singapore so we can order more books now. Thank you, i always look forward to your book recommendations!!

  16. Wayne

    One other thing. I can’t imagine reading this stuff in a public place like a park or a beach. Picture this: A guy in your case comes up to you to start a friendly conversation. He asks: “What are you reading, that looks interesting.” You respond “It’s a book about somebody who has a fascination about kidnapping somebody and performing a lobotomy on him. It’s really cool!” His eyes get real big, he mumbles something and makes a hasty exit. Of course, if you wanted to get rid of a stranger quick, it would work better than pepper spray 😀

    • Words for Worms

      I don’t like being asked what I’m reading anyway. I mean, if I’m reading, I don’t want to be disturbed LOL. Plus, strangers. They make my anxiety flare up.

  17. Wayne

    So true, unless in my case she’s really good looking 😉 Then again, if she’s into zombies and wearing goth stuff and interested in me, it might be a good time to mumble to her “sorry, got to go.” Then make like Mel Brooks in “The Birds” scene in “High Anxiety”.

  18. Sarah

    I also picked up this book thinking it would be about supernatural zombies. And yeah, I found it to be dark and disturbing, just like you said. I really didn’t want to take my mind to such dark places, but her writing immersed me. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to write such a book – I’d love to take a writing class taught by her.

  19. Layla Wilson

    I never read this one (Zombies), but I’ve just finished her newest book ‘The Accursed’, which is for me, a person who has the attention span no bigger than of a cloud of mayflies, a massive achievement – 700 odd pages of unsettling innuendos. Think I could put it down – no way! CJO’s writing is too mesmerizing, but I also think the raw dark content that she so lyrically writes about acts as stimulus for introspection…yip, she speaks just to me 🙂 She has an interview lined up this Sunday on the ‘Book report radio’ show this Sunday revolving around this new book, and I for one won’t miss it for the world – how does a frail 75 year old lady write about…I want to say dark things, but I know it’s reality she paints.

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