Friday, January 16, 2009

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Labyrinth by Joyce Carol Oates

The story recommendation of the week is for "Labyrinth" by Joyce Carol Oates, a neat little piece of flash fiction you can find on the rear endpapers of McSweeney's 29. The story is printed in a blocky spiral, circling in toward the center of the page. I am usually not one for flash fiction, especially when it proceeds from such a gimmick, but Oates uses the odd format very effectively.

"Labyrinth" is a low-key horror story about a young man obsessed with the fear of being buried alive. And of course, since the days of Poe, such an absurd phobia can come to only one end. Because the tale is printed in an inward-falling spiral, the story forces the reader to turn the book over ever more quickly, cleverly reinforcing a sense of dread and claustrophobia.

While many mainstream authors dabble in science fiction, Joyce Carol Oates is one of the few writers with mainstream cachet who likes to slum in the horror field. (Similarly, McSweeney's is less biased against SF/F/H than most mainstream mags, as we know from their genre-oriented anthologies edited by Michael Chabon, McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales and McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories.) Horror readers who haven't read Oates should check out "Labyrinth," and if you like that then try some of Oates' other works with horror elements, such as Zombie and many of the stories in The Collector of Hearts. Conversely, you Joyce Carol Oates fans out there who don't mind when she moves into spooky territory really ought to try some of today's other literary horror authors like Dan Simmons and Tom Piccirilli and Glen Hirshberg.

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