Joyce Carol Oates read an account of a serial killer, Charles Schmid, who was an older man that pursued young girls. What surprised Oates was that so many normal teenagers helped Schmid to carry out and/or conceal his murders. From this factual story, Oates wrote and published in 1966, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”, and it was an immediate success. In 1986, it was made into a movie called Smooth Talk.
The setting is mid America in the 1960s. The times were challenging morally and socially. Life was no longer a bed of roses and materialism was questioned. The story is told from the protagonist point of view with a third person narrator.
The story’s heroine or protagonist is Connie, a pretty, 15 year old vixen. Connie does not get along with her mother and detests her older boring sister. It is summer and Connie lounges around the house most of the time.
Occasionally, she is able to go out with a friend to the shopping plaza and meet up with boys. One night Connie and her friend run across the highway to a drive-in restaurant where the older kids hang out. A boy named Ernie starts chatting with Connie, then invites her out to get something to eat. Connie leaves her friend at the drive-in, following Ernie to his car. On the way, Connie catches the eye of another guy in a gold-painted convertible. He smiles at her. She looks away but then looks back at him. The guy wags his finger at her and says, "Gonna get you baby." Connie wonders what he meant.
Soon after, Connie is left alone on a Sunday while the rest of the family go to a relative’s house for a Barbeque party. After the family leaves, Connie watches as the strange guy from the drive in pulls up in her driveway in his unusual car, accompanied by a friend.
The driver introduces himself as Arnold Friend. In the conversation, Arnold asks Connie to join him for a ride. Connie realizes that Arnold is a threat. Arnold's language becomes more menacing, sexual, and violent.
This is how it is, honey: you come out and we'll drive away, have a nice ride. But if you don't come out we're gonna wait till your people come home and then they're all going to get it.
When Arnold threatens to harm her family if she calls the police, Connie tries anyway, but panics. Even when Connie retreats inside her house, Arnold never stops harassing and threatening her. In the end, thinking to save her family, she joins Arnold and his friend in his gold car and rides off.
Originally, the story seems benign. A girl challenges her mother’s authority and dislikes her sister. No big deal!
The tone changes to horror when Connie faces a much older and experienced Arnold whose name is deceptive: Arnold Friend. He is hardly wanting just to be Connie’s friend. Her lack of worldly knowledge prevents Connie from making good decisions. There were probably many other ways to handle Arnold…but Connie cannot think of them as he pressures and threatens her family’s lives. Oates leaves the reader stranded hoping that Connie survives.