From one of America’s most renowned storytellers—the best-selling author of Blonde—comes a novel about love and deceit, and lust and redemption, against a backdrop of shocking murders in the affluent suburbs of Detroit.
"Hannah’s unreliable, elliptical narrative is seductive and compelling, like following someone into a fever dream ... [Oates] is in no hurry to trigger the action, dropping tiny morsels of foreshadowing to keep us on our toes." —The New York Times Book Review
“Unsettling, mysterious, deft, sinister, eerily plausible.” —Margaret Atwood, best-selling author of The Handmaid's Tale and The Testaments, via Twitter
In the waning days of the turbulent 1970s, in the wake of unsolved child-killings that have shocked Detroit, the lives of several residents are drawn together with tragic consequences.
There is Hannah, wife of a prominent local businessman, who has begun an affair with a darkly charismatic stranger whose identity remains elusive; Mikey, a canny street hustler who finds himself on a chilling mission to rectify injustice; and the serial killer known as Babysitter, an enigmatic and terrifying figure at the periphery of elite Detroit. As Babysitter continues his rampage of abductions and killings, these individuals intersect with one another in startling and unexpected ways.
Suspenseful, brilliantly orchestrated, and engrossing, Babysitter is a starkly narrated exploration of the riskiness of pursuing alternate lives, calling into question how far we are willing to go to protect those whom we cherish most. In its scathing indictment of corrupt politics, unexamined racism, and the enabling of sexual predation in America, Babysitter is a thrilling work of contemporary fiction.
In this polished yet soulless story from Oates (Extenuating Circumstances: Stories of Crime and Suspense), three people with varying agendas converge during the late 1970s as Detroit is racked by unsolved child murders. Bored, lonely suburban housewife Hannah Jarrett, emotionally closed off from her wealthy businessman husband and their two young children, is drawn into an abusive, humiliating affair with a man calling himself Y.K., a smarmy stranger she meets at a society fundraiser who no one can remember inviting. Y.K. also has a manipulative hold on Mikey Kushel, a victim of childhood abuse, and Mikey's menial errands for Y.K. become increasingly strange and violent. Meanwhile, a serial killer of children called Babysitter at first stalks only Detroit's inner city, until he widens his reach to the suburbs, shattering Hannah's family's sense of safety. Exquisite prose compensates only in part for characters with grating personalities who come across as mere shadows as they each careen along a collision course to disaster. This one's only for Oates diehards. Agent: Warren Frazier, John Hawkins & Assoc.
Dazed & Confused
I am not sure what I just read. Long, drawn out & tedious, I often felt anxiety trying to get through these pages. Entirely too many similes. Extensive use of the word “wraith.,” for no discernible reason. Unfortunately, I found myself wanting the book to be over. I kept waiting for something to happen & pieces to fall into place, but that never happened. We are left wondering about every single character, from Hannah to Wes & Y.K. to the Babysitter. I’m so confused and after nearly 500 pages, I was hoping for way more.
Not What I Expected
It's difficult for me to describe Babysitter because I gravitated to it for all the reasons it's not. Beautifully written, Joyce Carol Oates describes the inner thoughts of her protagonist Hannah. At first, I thought they were flowery and longwinded pros, but they are necessary. Hannah is not a likeable character. She acts with a selfishness that made me think she got what she deserved, but I lived in fear for her. Babysitter is not about a child molesting serial killer, but there are graphic scenes of violence, rape and murder, set against a backdrop of racism and white privilege in 1970's Michigan. Initially, I gave it 4 stars but changed my mind. I had to process the ending.