Shelf Awareness Book Talk: DADDY LOVE, by Joyce Carol Oates

cover image: DADDY LOVE, via
Daddy Love
Joyce Carol Oates
Mysterious Press (January 2013), hardcover (ISBN 0802120997 / 9780802120991)
Fiction (mystery/thriller), 240 pages

A version of this review was previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (January 18, 2013). I was provided with a galley of the novel and compensated for the review.

Opening lines:
“Take my hand, she said.
“He did. Lifted his small hand to Mommy’s hand. This was maybe five minutes before the abduction.
“Did she see their car? she asked him. Did he remember where they’d parked?
“It was a kind of game she’d played with him. He was responsible for remembering where they’d parked the car at the mall which was to teach the child to look closely, and to remember.”

Book description, from the publisher’s website:
Dinah Whitcomb has everything: a loving husband and a smart young son named Robbie. Then one day their world is shattered when Robbie is abducted from a parking lot and Dinah is run over by the kidnapper’s van, mangling her body nearly beyond repair. The kidnapper, a reverend named Chester Cash, aka Daddy Love, has for years abducted, tortured, and raped young boys. Daddy Love renames Robbie as ‘Gideon,’ brainwashing him into believing that he is Daddy Love’s real son, and any time the boy resists or rebels he is met with punishment beyond his wildest nightmares.

As Robbie grows older he becomes more aware of just how monstrous Daddy Love truly is. Once terrified of what would happen if he disobeyed Daddy Love, he begins to realize that the longer he is locked in the shackles of this demon, the greater chance he’ll end up like Daddy Love’s other ‘sons’ who were never heard from again. Somewhere within this tortured boy lies a spark of rebellion . . . and soon he will see just what lengths he must go to in order to have any chance at survival.

Comments: Whether she’s working in general or genre fiction, Joyce Carol Oates has rarely shied away from the darker aspects of human nature. In Daddy Love, her first full-length novel for the mystery/crime imprint Mysterious Press, she explores that all-too-common parental nightmare: a child’s abduction by a predatory stranger.

Dinah Whitcomb’s five-year-old son, Robbie, is literally ripped from her hands in a mall parking lot by con artist Chet Cash. It’s not the first time Cash, who refers to himself as “Daddy Love,” has spotted a young boy he decides is meant to be his and taken him for himself. At his old farm in rural New Jersey, he will keep this child, whom he re-names Gideon, as isolated as possible, and raise him as he raised several other boys before. And several years later, this boy will no longer appeal to Daddy Love as he once did, and Daddy Love will discard him in the same way as he did his predecessors. Back in Michigan, Dinah Whitcomb slowly recovers from the severe injuries she sustained in trying to stop her son’s kidnapper, and the years pass with no news of him or Robbie.

Oates has a particular gift for pulling readers into stories they’re not sure they really want to read. Daddy Love’s subject matter makes it difficult to get through at times, but Oates’ storytelling makes it even more difficult to put down; while graphic in spots, it’s even more evocative when it leaves things to the imagination. This is a dark, fast-paced, deeply unsettling parental fairy tale.

Rating: 3.5/5
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