By Joyce Carol Oates
No doubt about it, Joyce Carol Oates is one of our most daring writers, not afraid to address the most fearful subjects, the darkest depths of human depravity. And none is quite as heartbreaking and nasty as the sexual abuse and murder of a child. It’s a topic many would not wish to contemplate. If you’re one, you may not want to read Daddy Love.
Chet “Daddy Love” Cash lives in the hamlet of Kittatinny Falls, NJ. He presents himself to the locals as an artist, a bearded, youngish muscular mountain man who specializes in macramé. He travels around the country in the guise of an aging, vital preacher, gray bearded, in black with a distinctive crimson vest. He drives an old van that he repaints time and again. In the van, he carries a small box, fashioned by him in the shape of a coffin with a divided, hinged lid, like Dutch doors. In the box, when he needs a replacement, he stores a boy, snuggly fitted, gagged, a boy usually of six, a boy sealed in stark terror, though the real terror comes later under the stern training routine of his captor, Daddy Love.
Life and literature have given us some heinous criminals who make even the most avid anti-death penalty advocates reconsider their position. Many of them pale in the shadow of Oates’s Daddy Love. We can say unreservedly that this novel will raise your blood pressure and keep you awake at night, especially if you are a parent or a grandparent. Child abduction and abuse arouse feelings of abhorrence and fear in us, without us actually feeling within ourselves what a wounded child feels. With her well known and respected, though not always liked, psychological legerdemain, Oates enables you to feel in the most visceral way the blinding terror that a stolen child feels, and the total desperation and self recrimination of suffering parents.
As we said, not a read for everyone, but many will find it an interesting, at times moving, exploration of crimes against children. w/c