Daddy Love by Joyce Carol Oates
Published by Mysterious Press
Publication date: January 8th 2013
Genres: Childhood, Contemporary, Fiction, Social Issues
Joyce Carol Oates is a seductress who leads you into whatever world she is exploring. This can be poignant, uplifting, or deeply disturbing. In the case of Daddy Love it’s the latter. The first four chapters recount the same time span in a mother’s life—the moment when her child is taken from her.
Yet she was conscious of the terrible loss.
The child’s hand had been snatched from hers.
Mommy had had to let go.
This was the defeat of her life as a mother.
The defeat of her life as a human being.
Retelling the event four times may seem odd or overkill but in those opening chapters Oates puts you squarely in the mind of a mother who, despite her best efforts, watched her child being driven away by a stranger. This is a pain and guilt most of us will never know but Oates puts it out there, simply and in the disjointed, broken words of a sorrowing mother.
To then switch to the perspective of the abductor, where the novel will remain for its majority is where some will decide this is not the book for them. There is no explanation or understanding of this kind of evil. It is there, we read of it almost every day, but there is no light, no way to fathom why someone would steal children and abuse them so horribly. Daddy Love is what he must be called and 5-year-old Robbie learns, through confinement, lies (your parents sold you), and mental torture that there is no way out and only by submitting will he survive. This is a depraved man and Oates writes him as such. There are no redeeming qualities. Robbie is not the first young boy he has taken nor will he be the last. And when he has served his purpose he will be disposed of with as little ceremony and care as a piece of garbage.
It is only towards the end of six years imprisonment that Oates switches to Robbie’s point of view. He is now called Gideon and is so well trained that he can go to school. Again, understanding this level of mental subjugation is not easy but through Oates’ ability to assume the mind of her characters we see how Robbie/Gideon can separate himself from his ‘life’ to who he is really is and how to get free.
Daddy Love is difficult reading. In the wrong hands the subject could be lurid and exploitatively graphic but with Oates it is only stark and dark. Not a book for everyone and certainly not if you’re hoping to understand the ‘why’ of such crimes. There is no explanation for the evil that resides in some people. Instead, it is recounted in an almost factual manner while it is the other characters, mother, father, child, who are fleshed out emotionally and ultimately, that is the saddest part. Even if the child is found, is there ever a happy ending?