REVIEW: The Collector of Hearts by Joyce Carol Oates

Originally published 2016-06-22: Get a dose of the grotesque in Joyce Carol Oates The Collector of Hearts


Joyce Carol Oates is possibly one of the most well-known horror authors in the world. Most people have heard of her, and if you’re into horror, you’ve probably read her work.

And why not? She’s a genius with the English language. Her stories are subtle, dripping darkness slowly onto the page until – BAM! – the full effect of the grotesque hits you.

Or it slithers up into your lap and makes its home inside your bowels, and though you know it’s going to keep getting worse, you keep reading, because you can’t stop, you need to know: what horror awaits this being, this fictional person that all of a sudden feels so real?

She’s also fun to follow on Twitter.

I’ve long been a fan of hers, though I haven’t been able to read much of her work so far. So when I found an old, battered copy of one of her anthologies, The Collector of Hearts, in a library book sale, I had to buy it.

cover of horror anthology The Collector of Hearts by Joyce Carol Oates

Book Description

In these twenty-five gothic horror tales from the master of the short story, Joyce Carol Oates explores the waking nightmares of life with eyes wide-open, facing what the bravest of us fear the most.

From the Kafka-esque “Scars” to a balladlike tale of erotic obsession in “The Crossing,” to the mother-daughter bond given a fatal twist in “Death Mother,” the stories in The Collector of Hearts illuminate the mysteries of the human experience–both intellectual and visceral.

It is a stunning and richly diverse anthology of mood and menace–haunting, elegiac, and compulsively readable.

The Stories

Death Mother hit close to home. I know what it’s like to be abused, neglected, and abandoned by the one person who is supposed to love you the most, and this story hits you in the gut with that feeling.

One of my favorite (and hardest to read) stories in this anthology was one without a name. A single black rectangle, like the dark spot on your memory of a childhood trauma, immediately tells you this story won’t be easy to read. It’s not, but it’s worth it.

Labor Day is one of those stories you really don’t get until the end, but you know all along that something is awry.

A story I wish I had written myself is The Affliction. An elderly artist comes to terms with the medium of his work and the nearing end of his life. I read this one twice because I loved it so much.

Unprintable is the story of a woman who toiled most of her life for a cause she believed in and left a trail of scars along her soul as she ascended in the ranks. I have mixed feelings about this story, but I can honestly say that it was a good one.

One of the most disturbing stories in this anthology has to be The Dream-Catcher. A single woman with a kind heart is visited by something otherworldly when she buys a dream-catcher for her bedroom.

My Rating

I give it five of five stars because it lived up to all my expectations of her work. No two stories were alike, even if they may have seemed to be when they began, and each one left an impression on me that I won’t soon forget. If you love dark fiction, grab a copy of this today.

This is book #14 on my quest to #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks.


This is an affiliate link; click it to buy and I receive a small commission, but you don’t pay any extra.