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Book Cover Image: Daddy Love by Joyce Carol Oates

Title: Daddy Love
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
ISBN: 9780802120991
No. of Pages: 240
Genre: Suspense
Origins: NetGalley and Grove/Atlantic
Bottom Line: A horrifying and yet strangely compelling novel about the depravities of man, the fathomless depths of a mother’s love, and a person’s overwhelming desire to survive against the most despicable of treatments.
“Dinah Whitcomb seemingly has everything. A loving and successful husband, and a smart, precocious young son named Robbie. One day, their worlds are shattered when Dinah is attacked and Robbie is taken in a mall parking lot. Dinah, injured, attempts to follow, but is run over by the kidnapper’s van, mangling her body nearly beyond repair.
The kidnapper, a part-time Preacher named Chester Cash, calls himself Daddy Love, as he has abducted, tortured, and raped several young boys into being his lover and as well as his ‘son’. He confines Robbie in a device called an Wooden Maiden, in essence a small coffin, and renamed him ‘Gideon’. Daddy Love slowly brainwashes ‘Gideon’ into believing that he is Daddy Love’s real son, and any time the boy resists or rebels it is met with punishment beyond his wildest nightmares.
As Dinah recovers from her wounds, her world and her marriage struggle to exist every day. Though it seems hopeless, she keeps a flicker of hope alive that her son is still alive.
As Robbie grows older, he becomes more aware of just how monstrous Daddy Love truly is. Though as a small boy he as terrified of what might happen if he disobeyed Daddy Love, Robbie begins to realize that the longer he stays in the home of this demon, the greater chance he’ll end up like Daddy Love’s other ‘sons’ who were never heard from again. Somewhere within this tortured young boy lies a spark of rebellion…and soon he sees just what lengths he must go to in order to have any chance at survival.”
Thoughts: Daddy Love is a horrifying glimpse into every mother’s worst nightmare. Joyce Carol Oates captures perfectly the feelings of helplessness and underlying sense of hope that exists when a child goes missing. This is more than a novel about those left behind after a child kidnapping however. Ms. Oates takes readers into the mind of the kidnapper and even more tragically into the mind of the kidnapped as he struggles against the phenomenon of Stockholm Syndrome.
What makes this truly unique is that Ms. Oates does not sugarcoat the truth, nor does she create an unrealistic fairy tale ending. Children subject to physical and mental torture like Gideon cannot escape and return to a life of normalcy, and neither can a family torn apart by such a loss pick up where they were before the tragedy. The repercussions of Chester Cash’s actions have long-lasting, if not permanent, repercussions that Ms. Oates chooses not to ignore. It makes for a bleaker but more realistic story.
This novel is not for the faint of heart. Ms. Oates holds no punches in informing readers just how depraved Chester is. Yet, it is not until the meaning of the cover becomes clear, the true horror of Daddy Love’s teaching methods comes to light. While it is only one glimpse into Gideon’s plight, a picture really is worth a thousand words, and this one picture speaks volumes.
Daddy Love is a novel that is going to simultaneously repulse and entrance readers. As disgustingly perverted as Chester Cash’s actions are, there is something riveting about Gideon’s twin mindsets. His dawning awareness of Daddy Love’s perversions combined with the warring submissiveness taught by Cash’s brutal teaching methods are a fascinating psychological study. Dinah’s struggles for normalcy in the wake of her terrible injuries and heartbreaking loss are equally fascinating and just as heartrending. As difficult a read as it is, Daddy Love is worth the read, if only to leave one with a sense of thankfulness at not having to experience anything like Gideon or Dinah.
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