by Joyce Carol Oates

Kerry Nichols (03/07/14): Roland Marks is a successful, famous, Nobel Prize winning author. He is a womanizer who has collected ex-wives throughout the years, including his daughter Lou-Louís mother. Lou-Lou is "forty-six years old and the dean of the faculty at a small, highly regarded liberal arts college in Riverdale, New YorkĒ (Oates, Patricide). Though she is highly successful in her professional life, the relationship she has with her father leaves time for little more. She idolizes her father, referring to him by his full name, Roland Marks, granting him an almost god-like status. Lou-Lou is obsessed with being the most important woman in his life, showing extreme jealousy when her position as the most needed woman is threatened. This threat comes when Cameron, a young Ph.D. student becomes his assistant. Not wanting to be replaced by a woman half her age, Lou-Lou begins to let her professional responsibilities slip as she increases how much she caters to her fatherís every need. Oppositely, her father decreases the small amount of attention he shows her, devoting all of his time to his latest love interest, who becomes his fiancťe. Towards the end of the story, Roland is killed when he falls down steps that collapse beneath him. After his death, Lou-Louís life transforms into something that had not been possible while he was alive.

She becomes the most important person in her fatherís terminated life and through that power, finds the self she never knew while he was alive. Lou-Lou feels responsible for his death because she knew the steps were faulty and had not fixed them. Following Rolandís death, Lou-Lou and Cameron become close, relying on one another for grief, companionship, and support. She even hires her fatherís fiancťe to be her assistant while she handles her fatherís estate. His literary estate is the most valuable of all of his possessions. It is what he was most protective over in his life. Now, Lou-Lou has power over it. Together with her fatherís former fiancťe, she defies his orders by negotiating a movie adaption of his works with Hollywood filmmakers. It is not just his literary career that Lou-Lou has the rights to, it is also Cameron. She admits to never feeling sexual desire before her fatherís death. Once he is gone, she finally feels this desire for Cameron. With him gone, Lou-Lou is finally able to admit who she really is as she replaces her father in the heart of his fiancťe.

Interpreting this story through a psychoanalytic perspective, it is clear that Lou-Louís life is controlled by the oedipal dynamics of her relationship with her father. She is obsessed with him to the point that he occupies her every thought and desire. She spends her entire life trying to please him because she wants to be the number one woman in his life. When the relationship with her father and her own mother failed, she chose her father over her mother. From that moment she resents and wants to beat out every woman who enters his life, including Cameron. When she feels Cameron winning the battle for her fatherís attention, Lou-Lou develops a defense mechanism for the pain from being rejected by spending even more time than she already did taking care of his house and finances. She becomes so obsessed trying to insert herself into her fatherís life that she fails to maintain her responsibilities at work and gets demoted. After her fatherís death, Lou-Louís repressed desires to replace her father become apparent.

Though typically, the Oedipus complex refers to wanting to replace the same-sex parent, Lou-Louís character develops from wanting to replace all of the females in her fatherís life to eventually wanting to replace him. This is revealed when Oates explains that Lou-Lou finds her happiness following Rolandís death. She absorbs his power by gaining control of his estate, to include the rights to all of his literary works. While he was living, she had not been able to defy him; however, after his death, she goes against his wishes and entertains the idea of allowing Hollywood to make film productions of his stories. Finally, it is revealed that she wants to replace him sexually when her first sexual desire is felt for Cameron. The title of the novella, Patricide, speaks to Lou-Louís true desire: to kill her father, take his power, and replace him sexually.

This story is a good, easy read. The main character, Lou-Lou is well-developed. She grows throughout the story from a weak, sexually repressed, obsessed daughter into a strong woman who discovers her true identity after the death of her father. Roland is a stereotypical, egotistical man who is more wrapped up in his own life to care about his family. The imbalance of power and love between this father and daughter is shown when Lou-Lou says, ďI had to leave Thursday evenings open for my father; but my father might make other, more interesting plans for Thursday without notifying meĒ (Oates, Patricide). Oates does a good job showing the obsession Lou-Lou has for her father as well as the indifference he feels towards her. Lou-Lou describes their Thursday night dinners as ďthe very core of my emotional lifeĒ (Patricide). Oppositely, her father dismisses this important ritual when tempted by Cameron. He unemotionally tells his daughter, ďCameron and I have more serious things with which to occupy ourselves, OK?Ē (Oates, Patricide). The story is laced with these types of exchanges, where Lou-Louís greatest desire is to be with her father and his is to be anywhere else. Though the characters in Patricide create an interesting storyline, the story lacks the level of climax that is promised in the title. The title creates suspense and excitement with the hint that Lou-Lou might snap and murder her emotionally void father at any moment. Because of this, it loses excitement and is disappointing to realize that the title is more figurative than literal about the end of their relationship. The disappointment in the lackluster climax spills over into the falling action because it takes a few pages to come to terms with the fact that Roland is killed accidentally rather than murdered, which seemed promised.

This disappointment is short-lived when it becomes apparent that Lou-Lou had not been jealous of the other womenís involvement in her fatherís life, but rather had been jealous of her fatherís life. Though grieving for her father, Lou-Lou enjoys taking power over his literary works. She then takes his place in Cameronís life and even admits while snuggling with her one night, ďA rich red sensation begins in my throat and spreads through my chest, my belly and my loinsĒ (Oates, Patricide). Figuratively, Lou-Lou becomes her father. This twist in the plot makes up for the let-down of Lou-Lou not actually murdering him. It elevates the book from a regular suspense story to the type of high-quality literature for which Oates is known.
Rating: ***

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