I came across this short story, written in 1970, in The American Tradition in Literature, Fourth Edition. It’s a creepy story of suspense, fear and risk that begins with Connie, a fifteen-year-old girl who is full of the adolescent excitement of being young. That summer, Connie and her best girl friend find new boys every night when they are dropped off at the shopping plaza, to shop or see a movie, so they’ve told their parents.
One night, after meeting a boy named Eddie, Connie catches the eye of a different, mysterious figure in a car, who grins at her and wags his finger, “Gonna get you, baby,” he says.
First Oates sets an easy mood of kids being kids. Then Arnold Friend pulls up to Connie’s house, with Ellie Oscar along for the ride. She’s alone. Her family is gone for the day and somehow Arnold knows all about this. “You wanta come for a ride?” he asks. Connie talks through the screen door. Something isn’t right about Arnold Friend. He looks older than she thought. But he has a smooth way of talking and Connie can’t decide. The reader can see just how dangerous he is, but Connie doesn’t see the risk. She’s pulled by the danger, despite her fear.
Oates does a great job showing Connie’s flawed reasoning. When Connie is tempted by the thrill of a break from her otherwise boring teenage life, she has only herself to rely upon. The abrupt ending leaves the reader afraid.
This is a dark story, with a great insight into the uglier side of human interaction. It’s a raw and unsettling read with lingering effects. The story was adapted into the 1985 movie Smooth Talk. I also found a modern YouTube adaptation by Ana Proulx, which captures the scary mood of the story. Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-u9b-RZj804.
Oates dedicated this story to Bob Dylan. She said she was inspired to write “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” after listening to his song, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”
Joyce Carol Oates is the author of more than 70 books, including novels, short story collections, poetry volumes, plays, essays, and criticism, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys and Blonde. Among her many honors are the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction and the National Book Award. Oates is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. (From http://www.amazon.com/Joyce-Carol-Oates/e/B000APT3DK)
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