Adolescence is tough on both sexes, of course, but girls rapidly approaching womanhood, usually with the feelings and emotions of women but with the emotional maturity of girls, are particularly vulnerable to the types of dangers that can end in major catastrophe for themselves and their families.
That is the kind of story that Joyce Carol Oates tells in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been.” Connie, a young girl just starting to explore life on her own and in the company of her best friend, manages to be left alone at home for an entire Sunday while her parents and older sister attend a family barbeque. When a man she vaguely remembers seeing at a teen dining spot the night before shows up at her door, knowing everything about her and her family, she is completely unprepared to defend herself, emotionally or otherwise.
Watching this man manipulate and confuse her is like watching a snake trap and eat a little mouse. It is horrifying and fascinating at the same time. Hard as it is to watch, it feels like one of life’s lessons: the weak have to be prepared and constantly on guard if they are to survive in a world of predators only too eager to take advantage of their weakness and naiveté. Ms. Oates is sending a message, teaching a lesson, to the Young Adult readers for whom this short story collection was created. Perhaps this one had a particularly strong impact on me because I am the father of two daughters and I feel blessed that they made it through those teenage years with no real damage done. But stories like this one remind me that even the best parenting skills are no guarantee that young women will survive those dangerous years. Blind luck has to be on your side as well.
This is one story that I will be thinking about for a long, long time. I will not soon forget the young girl caught in a trap she barely recognizes, nor the creep who had so obviously used the exact same trap on others before her.Rated at: 5.0
(About the photo) The photo is of a very young Laura Dern who has become a very fine actress. Laura made her film debut, from what I understand, in the role of "Connie" from this Oates short story which was renamed "Smooth Talk" by Hollywood. Also, from what I have read, Ms. Oates was not exactly thrilled with the ending that Hollywood tacked onto her story, completely changing the whole mood of the piece probably out of some misdirected notion that her ending may be too much for the film audience.