Joyce Carol Oates’s story is an experimental rendering of guilt and sexual repression. Through an alternation between a series of questions (in italics) and answers (in roman), she exposes the rawness of a very vulnerable personality: a woman unable to understand her own desires and fears. The reader’s burdensome task is to understand this neurosis, even if the central character never will. The rather curt, at times clinical, questions seem to come from a male universe; the irrational, at times utterly disjointed answers seem to emanate from the female narrator’s defense of another woman—a woman as broken as she is. The title of the story (also one of its questions) seems to support this reading.
Sharon, this miserably unhappy woman, spends a sleepless night vaguely waiting for something or someone to happen to her. She brings into her memory a young boy from her high school days who “had died of insanity.” She thinks of her mother, miles away, whose snoring disgusts her; throughout the story her mother appears as a bittersweet but inaccessibly distant memory. In the middle of these scattered reminiscences, the reader is uncomfortably aware that Sharon is terrified by the possibility that the telephone will ring.
She then recalls an unspecified afternoon before this sleepless night. She had met an old friend of her father-in-law. He reminds her of all the dead men in her life: father-in-law, father, husband, and the insane high...
(The entire section is 523 words.)