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Joyce Carol Oates: Expensive People

Richard Everett, the narrator of this novel, is not like the main characters in Oates’ previous novels. Not only is he male and a child (he is around ten years old when the novel starts), he is brought up in a very affluent environment. His father is a successful executive, rapidly rising up the corporate ladder. His mother – Natashya Romanov but wittily known as Nada – is a minor novelist with some success. She pretends to be the daughter of Russian aristocrats but is, in fact, the daughter of poor Russian immigrants. Richard is infatuated with his mother and is continually spying on her. She, however, is less interested in him and frequently goes away, to have affairs and for other R & R activities. But when Richard finds both her notebook, with ideas for a story about a young man who snipes at people, missing the first three times but, now he is conditioned, being more successful the fourth time, and her short story The Molesters, an actual short story written by Oates, he plans her murder. The novel is the eighteen year old Richard writing about it. However, it is left unclear as to whether he did kill his mother or only did so in fantasy. Once again, Oates shows us the violent and seamy side of American life, even if, this time, it is from on top and not down below. And, once again, it is a very successful novel.

Publishing history

First published 1968 by Vanguard Press