‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?’ by Joyce Carol Oates

Portrait of Joyce C. Oates

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates, 1966

The magic trick:

Blurring the lines between the protagonist’s terror and fantasy

So much tension. So much terror. And yet…

This story follows a similar model Oates uses in “Upon The Sweeping Flood.” We meet the protagonist during a brief pre-conflict portion of the story. We are introduced to their flaws – in the case of “Where Are You Going,” Connie is that youthful combination of insecure and self-absorbed. Then as the conflict develops, the protagonist faces real danger and is undone by those aforementioned flaws. The surrounding terror isn’t simply an external force; it feels like punishment for those flaws, or, even worse, a kind of fulfillment of the protagonist’s dark desires. As such, it recalls Wilbur Daniel Steele’s “How Beautiful With Shoes.” And if the whole format sounds pretty twisted up psychologically, that’s because it is. It’s a pretty intense way to write a story. And that’s quite a trick on Oates’s part.

The selection:

“You wanta come for a ride?” he said.

Connie smirked and let her hair fall loose over one shoulder.

“Don’tcha like my car? New paint job,” he said. “Hey.”

“What?”

“You’re cute.”

She pretended to fidget, chasing flies away from the door.

“Don’tcha believe me, or what?” he said.

“Look, I don’t even know who you are,” Connie said in disgust.

“Hey, Ellie’s got a radio, see. Mine broke down.” He lifted his friend’s arm and showed her the little transistor radio the boy was holding, and now Connie began to hear the music. It was the same program that was playing inside the house.

“Bobby King?” she said.
”I listen to him all the time. I think he’s great.”
”He’s kind of great,” Connie said reluctantly.
”Listen, that guy’s great. He knows where the action is.”

Connie blushed a little, because the glasses made it impossible for her to see just what this boy was looking at. She couldn’t decide if she liked him or if he was just a jerk, and so she dawdled in the doorway and wouldn’t come down or go back inside. She said, “What’s all that stuff painted on your car?”

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