Title: Miao Dao
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Genre: Horror Novella
Number of Pages: 66
Miao Dao is part of an Amazon original horror novella series called ‘Dark Corners,’ but so far it’s the only one I’ve read because Joyce Carol Oates is the only featured writer I’m familiar with. It’s not one of her best works but overall it’s a enjoyable story, which has some of the same faults that a lot of her other books do. Miao Dao has a creepy feral cat in it but it’s really about the horrors of abuse, and Oates’ recurring theme of mistreatment of girls and women is present here.
Mia’s adolescence is unusually painful, and she begins to hate and feel ashamed of her body when a group of boys start sexually harrassing her at school. Her mom is not remotely helpful and as if her emotionally abusive dad isn’t bad enough, her mom starts seeing a new man who shows inappropriate interest in her.
She feels a strong affinity for a group of feral cats who live on a vacant lot, and when the animals are killed by city officials she finds a lone survivor and takes him under her wing. Strange things start happening as Mia’s cat seems to take the unlikely role of protector and helps her deal with some truly toxic men in her life.
Some people probably won’t like what I’m going to say next- Joyce Carol Oates is a good writer but she has a problem with misandry. Most of the men in her books are sexual predators and exist solely to victimize women, and she tends not to give them any nuance whatsoever.
If a man shows up in a Joyce Carol Oates book he’s probably going to end up raping somebody by the end, and if he doesn’t than it least the book will remind us how it’s in his inherent nature to dominate and belittle females. This book was absolutely no exception, and at first I wasn’t even sure I wanted to read it at all because it didn’t seem like it would exactly bring anything new to the table.
I really wish the man who became Mia’s stepfather had ended up just being a general asshole instead of trying to barge in on her in the shower every few minutes, because at least that would have been unpredictable. As soon as the sleazebag shows up you know exactly what role he’s going to have, you just sit back and wait for the leering and fondling to start. I wonder if Joyce Carol Oates has a husband if she thinks he’s a pervert too, and what he thinks of her writing.
The reason I ended up liking this story was because I found myself caring about Mia’s character and I enjoyed watching her become empowered, and I liked the twist ending and how subtle yet meaningful it was. It was actually was of the least contrived twist endings I’ve seen in a while, and I thought it ended on a good note. As usual, Joyce Carol Oates’ portrays gender roles with the subtlety of a sledgehammer but as soon as I started it I knew I had to finish it, and even though I had a pretty good idea of what direction it would go in the journey was still worth it.
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