Robbie Whitcomb is five years old when he’s taken from his mother in a mall parking lot. In her attempt to chase the kidnapper, she’s left badly injured and permanently disfigured. Such are the methods of the man who calls himself Daddy Love—a man known to the rest of the world as charismatic preacher Chester Cash.
For the next six years, Robbie is to be Daddy’s son. That means doing whatever Daddy says—and giving him whatever he wants. Soon Robbie learns to accept his new name, Gideon. He also learns that he is not the first of Daddy Love’s sons. And that each of the others, after reaching a certain age, was never seen again.
As Robbie’s mother recovers from her wounds, her life and marriage are a daily struggle. But as years go by, she maintains a flicker of hope that her son is still alive. Meanwhile, Robbie approaches the “bittersweet age” with no illusions about his fate. But somewhere within this tortured child lies a spark of rebellion. And he knows all too well what survival requires.
“After all these years, Joyce Carol Oates can still give me the creeps.” —Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review
“A lean and disturbing tale that reverberates after its ending.” —The Columbus Dispatch
“Oates makes us squirm as she forces us to see some of the action through Love’s twisted and warped perspective.” —Kirkus Reviews
“This unsettling tale showcases Oates’s masterful storytelling.” —Publishers Weekly
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About the Author
Joyce Carol Oates is the author of over seventy books encompassing novels, poetry, criticism, story collections, plays, and essays. Her novel Them won the National Book Award in Fiction in 1970. Oates has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for more than three decades and currently holds the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professorship at Princeton University.
Hometown:Princeton, New Jersey
Date of Birth:June 16, 1938
Place of Birth:Lockport, New York
Education:B.A., Syracuse University, 1960; M.A., University of Wisconsin, 1961
Read an Excerpt
YPSILANTI, MICHIGAN APRIL 11, 2006
Take my hand, she said.
He did. Lifted his small hand to Mommy's hand. This was maybe five minutes before the abduction.
Did he 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.
The car was Daddy's Nissan. A silvery gray-green that didn't stand out amid other parked vehicles.
He was an alert child most of the time, except when tired or distracted as he was now.
Remember? Which store we parked in front of? Was it Home Depot or Kresge Paints?
Mommy narrowed the stores to two, for Robbie's benefit. The mall was too much for his five-year-old brain.
He was staring ahead, straining to see. He took his responsibility for the car seriously.
Mommy began to worry: she'd made too much of the silly game and now her son was becoming anxious.
For he was fretting, Is the car lost, Mommy? How will we get home if the car is lost, Mommy?
Mommy said, with a little laugh, Don't be impatient, sweetie! I promise, the car is not lost.
She would remember: the lot that was often a sea of glittering vehicles was now only about one-third filled. For it was nearing dusk of a weekday. She would remember that the arc lights high overhead on tall poles hadn't yet come on.
The harsh bright arc lights of Libertyville Mall. Not yet on.
It was in a row of vehicles facing the entrance to Kresge Paints that she'd parked the Nissan. Five or six cars back. The paint store advertised itself with a festive rainbow painted across the stucco facade of the building.
The Libertyville Mall was a welcoming sort of place. As you approached the entrances, a percolating sort of pop-music emerged out of the very air.
Didn't trust her spatial memory in these massive parking lots and so Dinah never walked away from her car without fixing a landmark in her memory. A visual cue rather than trying to remember the signs: letters and numerals were too easy to forget.
Unless she jotted down the location of the parked car on a scrap of paper, which she had not done.
Searching for the car Robbie was becoming increasingly fretful. Tugging at Mommy's hand in nervous little twitches. And his little face twitched, like a rabbit's.
She assured him: I'm sure the car is just over there. Next row. Behind that big SUV. Perpendicular to the paint store.
Robbie was straining to see. Robbie seemed convinced, the car was lost.
And how would they get home, if Daddy's car was lost?
Mommy asked Robbie if he knew what perpendicular meant but he scarcely listened. Ordinarily new and exotic words were fascinating to Robbie but now he was distracted.
Mommy what if ... Lost?
Damn she regretted the silly parking-lot game! Maybe it was a good idea sometimes but not now, evidently. Too much excitement in the mall and Robbie hadn't had a nap and now he was fretting and on the verge of tears and she felt a wave of protective love for him, a powerful wish to shield him, to clutch him close and assure him that he was safe, and she was safe, and the car was only a few yards away, and not lost. And they were not lost.
Except: when she came upon the row of vehicles in which she was sure she'd parked the Nissan, it wasn't there.
Which meant: she'd parked in the next row. That was all.
It's right here, Robbie. Next row.
You must hide from your child your own foolish uncertainties.
You must hide from your child your own sudden sharp-as-a-razor self-loathing.
Dinah was thinking more positively — (a good mother is one who insists upon thinking "more positively") — what a good thing it is, that a child's fears can be so quickly dispelled. Robbie's anxiety would begin to fade as soon as they sighted the car and would have been totally forgotten by the time they arrived home and Daddy came home for supper.
And Daddy would ask Robbie what they'd done that day and Robbie would tell him about the mall — the items they'd bought, the stores they'd gone into, the plump white pink-nosed Easter bunnies in an enclosure in the atrium at the center of the mall and how he'd petted them through the bars for it was allowed for visitors to pet the bunnies as long as they did not feed them, or frighten them.
PET ME PLEASE DON'T PINCH ME.
And Robbie would climb onto Daddy's lap and ask, as he'd asked Mommy, Could they have an Easter bunny? And Daddy would say as Mommy had said, Not this year but maybe next year at Easter.
And to Mommy in an undertone, Jugged hare, maybe. With red wine.
Pulling Robbie through a maze of parked vehicles and certain now that she saw the Nissan, parked exactly where she'd left it, Dinah was prepared to say in relief and triumph: See, honey? Just where we left it.CHAPTER 2
"Please take my hand, Robbie."
He did. He lifted his pudgy hand to Mommy's hand, and she squeezed his fingers. Between Mommy and the five-year-old passed a shivery sort of happiness.
Apophatic came to her mind. That which is beyond words.
So much in motherhood she was discovering is beyond words.
"Do you see our car? Daddy's car? Remember where we parked?"
The car was Daddy's 2001 Nissan sedan. Cool green-gray of the hue of weathered stone.
On their outings together, Mommy used such opportunities to instruct Robbie. It was Mommy's intention that their son would not be a passive child like so many in this electronic-media era but a child actively involved in whatever Mommy was doing that had some reasonable learning-purpose to it.
And Robbie definitely helped Mommy locate stores on the mall-map, for his five-yearold brain was quick to coordinate colors, and quick to match names and numerals with patches of color, as in a board game.
Robbie had been "responsible" for remembering the location of the car when Mommy parked, since the age of three.
He was a quick bright sweetly docile boy most of the time — given to happy chattering. A nonstop barrage of questions for Mommy and Daddy — Why? Why? Why?
The flood of speech had begun when he'd been two. In three years, Robbie's vocabulary and way with words had developed considerably.
And it was a task, to get such an active-minded child to sleep through the night. Often waking at 3:30 A.M. and coming to their bed claiming he was all slept-out, so it must be morning.
Mommy was asking gently: "Remember? Which store we parked behind? Was it Home Depot or Kresge Paints?"
She'd narrowed the stores down to two, for Robbie's benefit. The mall was somewhat overwhelming to him and shopping here left him both excited and fatigued.
"Home Depot or — Kresge Paints?"
Robbie stared, strained to see. Robbie was taking his responsibility for the car seriously.
This was a game and yet not entirely a game. Now Dinah began to worry that she'd made too much of it and if Robbie couldn't locate the car he'd be disappointed in himself, and upset.
The downside of an active-minded child is that he sets high standards for himself, if but unconsciously. And it should not be a five-year-old's self-judgment that he might fail.
Shopping with Mommy Robbie was like a little bird fluttering its wings — so much energy! And so much to look at, and question! Mommy what's this? Mommy what's this? A display of plump white pink-nosed Easter bunnies in the mall had thrown him into an ecstasy of excitement. He'd tugged at Mommy so hard that her arm was aching. She'd joked to friends, as to Whit, that she was becoming asymmetrical — a slight stoop to her right shoulder, from leaning down to their little boy.
He was a happy child. He was not a fretful, whimpering or whining child. Yet, sometimes when he was frustrated, particularly by a task he'd presumably learned to do, or by some accident having to do with the toilet, Robbie burst into tears of disappointment, hurt, rage. The woundedness in a five-year-old's face! It would require a Rembrandt to render such exquisite subtlety, such pain. At such times Dinah was in awe of the child.
For at such times he seemed to her not her child, but the child.
Robbie was saying in a worried voice that their car wasn't where it was supposed to be — was it? The car was "lost" — was it?
And Mommy said no, the car was definitely not lost — "Just wait a minute. Maybe we'll see it in a minute."
Robbie was asking how they would get home, if the car was "lost"?
"Sweetie, don't be so impatient. I promise, the car is not lost."
Recalling how, as a child, she'd been subject to little spells of anxiety about being lost.
All children must feel this anxiety in some way. Lostness as a condition of which no one can speak clearly for it is a mystery — the lostness deep within the soul.
Dinah would remember that the lot, often a sea of glittering vehicles, was only about one-third filled at this time, nearing dusk of a weekday. She would remember that the lights high overhead on tall poles hadn't yet come on. There'd been a mistiness to the air that made her vision seem blurred and her senses less alert than usual. And yes, she was tired.
Tired was what she'd never admit to her husband, let alone her son. Tired was her secret shame, alarm, disappointment in herself for she believed that tired was just ordinary weakness. If you are happy in your life and living a good life you are not ever tired but suffused with the strength of happiness.
She wasn't a religious person. Yet, in the deepest region of her soul she would say Yes I believe.
Whit would laugh at her. Whit laughed at such clichés. Whit laughed at weakness not his own.
It was facing the entrance to Kresge Paints she'd parked the car. Five or six rows back. The paint store advertised itself with a rainbow painted across the stucco facade of the building.
Didn't trust her spatial memory in these big lots and so she never left her car without fixing a landmark in her memory. She preferred a visual cue rather than trying to remember the signs: letters and numerals were too easy to forget unless she wrote them down.
Though she did remember, the car was in Lot C.
Robbie, over-excited by the mall, each window display having drawn his attention, and some of the displays (electronics, toys, sports gear) having stimulated a barrage of questions to put to Mommy, seemed to have forgotten Kresge Paints though, when they'd left the car, Mommy had pointed to the gala rainbow facade. Too much had intervened, evidently. Too much to look at. Robbie was tugging at Mommy's hand in nervous little twitches. And his little face twitched, like a rabbit's. She wanted to kiss him, he was looking so perplexed; at the same time so responsible.
At such a juncture a cruel parent might have said It was your responsibility to remember where the car was parked. If you can't find the car we are lost and have no way of getting back home. But she was not a cruel parent and she would never have said such a thing.
Though her own mother might have said such a thing to her when she'd been Robbie's age.
Not seriously of course but as a joke. Dinah's mother liked such jokes.
Don't go there! Back up.
"Honey, the car is over there, I think. Behind that SUV. We can't see it just yet but — it's perpendicular to the paint-store entrance. OK?"
Robbie was uncertain. Robbie was straining to see.
"The paint store? With all the colors? The car is there."
Robbie shook his head — his forehead crinkled in worry — the car was not there.
"Robbie, wait. Stop pulling at me, please! The car is there."
Dinah had to smile. Though a child is small, a child is strong.
But the fact is, an adult must always be aware: a child is small.
It was easy to forget this simple fact sometimes. When she and Robbie were together for an uninterrupted period of time — in the car, or at home; watching videos, reading a storybook ("reading" what was Robbie believed he was doing though Mommy knew he'd memorized the words to his favorite stories from having them read to him many times); when he was sitting with her, and they were almost of a height; or Robbie was sitting on her lap, which made him seem taller. Or Robbie was chattering and she was laughing and half-listening and thinking, as the child's father had observed, that there was something about their son's personality that made you think he was your size, essentially.
And quick, and smart. Fascinated by words.
"'Perpendicular.' D'you know what that means, sweetie?" Impatiently Robbie shook his head no.
"It means, like, an L" — Mommy made a shape with her hands, to indicate perpendicularity — "one thing is going this way, and the other is going this way. See?"
Robbie nodded uncertainly. He was looking anxiously about for the car — where was the car? Why couldn't he see the car yet?
Firmly Mommy gripped the pudgy little hand and walked forward in the direction of the car she'd parked only an hour before, making her way between parked cars, waiting for a lone vehicle to pass with headlights shining faintly, gripping the anxious child's hand and just slightly annoyed now, not so much with Robbie but with herself, for encouraging this silly game as a way of strengthening the child's memory, or his sense of responsibility, which she was thinking now hadn't been a good idea maybe; or, if a good idea originally, not so great an idea now. It frightened her, sometimes seeing young mothers lose control and scream at their small children in the mall, or in the vast parking lot; there was something about the anonymity of the mall that seemed to encourage such outbursts; and sometimes the young mother shook her child, and you could only stare in horror, you could not look away from such private, devastating moments; but you must shield your child from seeing, and so you did — you hurried away — no backward glance ...
The good thing was, of course Robbie's anxiety would vanish in another few seconds, when they found the car (which wasn't exactly where Dinah had thought it was, after all; must be the next row, and not this row) and Robbie would soon know, and a few minutes later Robbie would have totally forgotten his anxiety for in a five-year-old emotions rise and fall like gusts of wind. She would say, in triumph: "See, honey? Right where we left it."
But she was stammering. Words like bits of concrete or chalk in her mouth. Trying to say I can't remember.
I guess — I can't remember.
We were almost at our car when something hit me — the back of my head — it seemed to fall from the sky like a large bird — like a swan — it was just above me and beating me with its wing — but the wing was sharp like a sword ... Then I was gone.
I was gone, and Robbie was taken from me. I felt his fingers wrenched from my hand ...(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Daddy Love"
Copyright © 2013 Joyce Carol Oates.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
JCO always intrigues and startles. This is a despicable story, but occurs more often than we wish to believe. The back ground story of /the parents is sad and disturbing. This book is not for everyone to be sure, but I love Oates' style. What an ending!
I could not put this book down. I was a bit confused by the ending but JCO is sometimes not one wrap everything up in a neat bow.
Joyce Carol Oates does it again. This book is tense, continually engaging with a surprise ending. No matter what you think the end will be while reading - that will not be the ending. Her books are always well developed, with great characterization, intelligent and a surprise as each book is completely different from her other books. She has no "formula" despite her prolific writing. Read this one - expect to be disturbed...
Poorly written in a rambling after thought kind of way. The ending, or lack of, was just ridiculous. Will not purchase anything by this 'author' again. Very disappointed
What a dumb book. It was neither titillating, suspensful, gory or scary. It was a story about a child abduction. None of the characters were believable or even that likeable and the storyline was slooooow. Don't waste your money
This Audio CD was provided to me by HighBridge Audio courtesy of Audio Jukebox in return for an honest, unbiased review. This was my first Joyce Carol Oates book and definitely won't be my last. I found the writing to be concise and well-developed with what seemed to be great detail to each of the characters. I enjoyed that the main characters were more taboo than your regular main character! The story seemed like an actual story straight out of the headlines which is exactly what caught and kept my attention! I also really liked how the ending worked out! The narrator did a wonderful job of reading this story! She was able to really capture my attention and maintain it throughout the entire story. Overall, I really enjoyed listening to this book and will not hesitate to seek out more Joyce Carol Oates books in the near future!
I never read this author before but I really enjoyed this. I like good drama stories and this was one. I will be reading her new book.
I am a big JCO fan but this was not my favorite book by her, thus the 4/5 stars. I found it to be more deeply disturbing than some of her other novels and although I am really not worthy to critique her writing I did not feel that this book was as well written as a typical JCO novel.
Daddy Love. What ever compelled JCO to write a novel like this? I found it sickening. I did not finish this book. Don't waste your time or money on this one. Ms. Oates, really could you not have done any better? A sick mind writes of sick and perverse themes. F
A very sick &disturbing read. Could not finish.
This was not a very good book. The information listed on the back said it was "thrilling and suspenseful." I found it to be redundant and less than enjoyable. I had the audiobook and and found the narrator to be dull but some of it may be that the material wasn't that great. I'd like to give this author another chance and read other books. We'll see. I would not recommend this book to others....sorry!
Disturbing......open ending......not worth $2 let alone the $13 i paid!