Like a number of Joyce Carol Oates’s titles, both short stories such as “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” and novels such as Foxfire, “How I Contemplated the World from the Detroit House of Correction and Began My Life Over Again” describes a troubled teenage girl. Subtitled “Notes for an Essay for an English Class at Baldwin Country Day School; Poking Around in Debris; Disgust and Curiosity; A Revelation of the Meaning of Life; A Happy Ending . . . ,” the story nervously straddles this double focus: On one hand, an outline for a composition any teenager might write for English class, the story also unfolds as a vivid descent into a violent world of sex and drugs.
The form of the story seems to contradict its content. Each of the numbered paragraphs in this prose outline comes under one of twelve major sections: “I Events,” “II Characters,” and so on, but this apparent attempt to order reality quickly breaks down as the content of the essay reveals itself: A sixteen-year-old girl has been caught stealing gloves from an expensive suburban Detroit store, and her shoplifting is only a hint of deeper problems. Later, the girl takes a bus to inner-city Detroit, where for two weeks she lives with a thirty-five-year-old drug addict named Simon and his prostitute girlfriend, Clarita. When Simon tires of the girl, he passes her to friends and finally to the police, where she is savagely beaten by two girls in a lavatory of...
(The entire section is 511 words.)