‘The Cousins’ by Joyce Carol Oates

The Cousins by Joyce Carol Oates, 2004

The magic trick:

Showing the shifting foundation of truth through a series of letters

Epistolary fun from JCO today. Fun is a stretch. It’s a pretty dark story.

It is fun, though, to trace the changing tones from each letter writer as the story progresses. Things begin slowly. The relationship seems static. Rebecca is aggressive. Freyda is defensive.

But there are things happening under the surface, in what is implied and the things left completely unsaid. Soon, the leverage has switched. It becomes clear that neither is representing truth in their self-built narratives. Not 100 percent truth, at least. But who is? What even is 100 percent truth?

If a story gets you asking those kinds of questions, it’s onto something.

And that’s quite a trick on Oates’s part.

The selection:

Suddenly there are awards & honors for Freyda Morgenstern. Not only the memoirist but the “distinguished anthropologist” too. So I will travel to receive them. All this comes too late of course. Yet like you I am a greedy person, Rebecca. Sometimes I think my soul is in my gut! I am one stuffs herself without pleasure, to take food from others. Spare yourself. No more emotion. No more letters!


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