Joyce Carol Oates, ‘Fossil-Figures’ (2010)

The tale of twin brothers Edward and Edgar Waldman; the former small and sickly, the latter healthy and successful, having literally been a parasite on his brother in the womb. As their lives progress, the ‘demon brother’ Edgar becomes a Congressman, and Edward remains in the family home, the reclusive painter of a series of grotesque pieces – and an elegant reversal gets underway.

Oates’s prose is dense, with long paragraphs and repeated phrases, which has the effect of putting distance between the reader and events – there’s no forgetting that this a story being told. It heightens the sense of strangeness, and is particularly effective towards the beginning, when one gets caught up in the swirl of words describing the twins in the womb and as young children. Oates doesn’t maintain quite the same level of intensity throughout the story, but ‘Fossil-Figures’ is still a worthwhile read.

Rating: ***½


  1. I just read this story today and I agree with your rating. In the beginning I was drawn in by the unique use of language. The ending didn’t play with words as much as I would have liked. It was a good read though.

  2. I’m currently going through the audiobook version of this anthology and have been really enjoying it — and I stumbled across your blog.

    This story was fantastically told orally. The repetitive use of language was incredibly creepy. I wondered how it would play in text.

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