avery of the dead's picture
avery of the dead from Kentucky is reading Cipher Sisters October 2, 2013 - 8:21am

"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been" by Joyce Carol Oates

So...I don't know exactly how this will go.  I imagine this will evolve to suit you guys.

Read the story, post up thoughts, favorite lines, techniques you found interesting, basically whatever you want! 

Have fun.

SConley's picture
SConley from Texas is reading Coin Locker Babies October 2, 2013 - 9:20am

I had to write a long paper on this story in college and it's the only Oates story i've ever liked. It was interesting and creepy and ahead of its time. Arnold Friend (A. Friend, get it?) was written well. The whole back and forth betwen him and Connie was well done too. We had to watch a movie in class based on the story and it wasn't very good, it was cheesy and it had a James Taylor soundtrack.

Vonnegut Check's picture
Vonnegut Check from Baltimore October 2, 2013 - 12:43pm

Joyce Carol Oates is a master at pacing. This story, like most every one I’ve read from her, maintains a steady drip of tension and plotting throughout; never too slow, never too fast, pulling you from one sentence to the next; you're always in anticipation of what’s to come. During my first read I often found myself reading faster in order to learn what was coming next.

I have a hard time finding anything to complain about with this one. Instead I’ll finish with a few of my favorite lines of dialogue ...

"What're you thinking about? Huh?" Arnold Friend demanded. "Not worried about your hair blowing around in the car, are you?"


"Think I maybe can't drive good?"

"How do I know?"

"You're a hard girl to handle. How come?" he said. "Don't you know I'm your friend? Didn't you see me put my sign in the air when you walked by?"

"What sign?"

"My sign." And he drew an X in the air, leaning out toward her.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 2, 2013 - 11:14am

this is one hell of a tense story. i just read it last night, weird, in preparation for a 1950s anthology, something i'm trying to write. the way that Connie goes from detached and full of herself and innocent to this object, lulled into stepping out of the house with Friend, man, the whole thing is creepy. when she notices that they aren't in fact 16 or 18, more like 30 or 40, that's shocking. it goes from an innocent guy who likes a girl, to this dark crime that you know is coming, some sort of rape and possibly murder. the way she surrenders, and goes WILLINGLY (although i guess there is some debate about that) just sends chills up and down my spine. that last line, THAT'S what i strive for in my writing, that HAMMER that heavy conclusion that BAM at the end, the knowing, the darkness, wow:

so much land that Connie had never seen before and did not recognize except to know that she was going to it.

like a lamb to the slaughter. intense.

Covewriter's picture
Covewriter from Nashville, Tennessee is reading & Sons October 2, 2013 - 8:18pm

I love  Joyce Carol Oates. THEM is one of the best novels I've read. Her older stuff is great. As  for Connie, it's like she was asking for a change.She rolled her eyes at her suburban life and  it. Then the life was looking for, or thought she was looking for, came and found her. 

MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions October 3, 2013 - 5:48am

Arnold Friend, A-nold F-iend--she wrote this in '66, Flannery gave us The Misfit in '53, I can't say how many stories I've read over the decades that owe a debt to these two characters. They kind of set the archetype of a brand of dangerous stranger, but cut from some too cool rebel cloth, a slick offbeat sinister Americana, rebel without cause or conscience. Friend's evil, but he's painted in this shell of all the things Connie's inclined to like.

I don't read much Stephen King, but read the uncut version of The Stand this summer, and as soon as the character The Kid popped up in his hotrod to pick up Trashy, I couldn't stop thinking: Arnold Friend. It's likely Arnold and the Misfit might be two of King's favorite characters. No one does the Americana quite like King these days.

I also recall a very similar story in Wells Tower's "Everything Ravaged" collection. Don't have it on me, but wasn't there a story of a teenage girl, maybe on a hiking or camping trip, coming across a young guy by a river? It was very very "Where Are You Going," if I recall correctly.

A great simple under the radar line for writers: "The kitchen window had never had a curtain, after three years, and there were dishes in the sink for her to do--probably--and if you ran your hand across the table you'd probably feel something sticky there."  "You'd probably feel something sticky there"--that's gold. That's what "on the body" is all about. She doesn't show you the table, the spills or stains, she makes you retract your hand and go wash it. Simple, brilliant detail. One sentence and you know the house, the people that live there, and Connie's status among them.

There's a weird supernatural current running through their encounter that I'd be curious to hear others' thoughts on.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 3, 2013 - 8:01am

Great quote, I almost pulled that one, too. 

I definitely feel the pull of the horrific, he's almost brain washing her with his voice, his melodic language and words, a bit of a devil character, right? The whole mood feels very tense and creepy and charged. Reminds me a bit of Hitchcock. Subtle, but powerful. 

Love that Wells Tower collection, too.

Michael.Eric.Snyder's picture
Michael.Eric.Snyder October 3, 2013 - 11:25pm

Interesting. I was thinking Stephen King as well as I read this story for the first time. Something about Arnold Friend feels very King-esque, though of course this character came first. I think it had to do with the subtext of everything being said that felt like King, the off-kilter details like the stuffed boots and small muscles, and the kid in the car who isn't really a kid. Also the grafitti on the car, the phrases, just one more detail that becomes menacing, encroaching on top of all the rest of the white noise psycho-terror going on. 

To me this is the story of two rapes, the first one of the mind. I wonder how much more explicit JCO would be if she'd written the story today? Would so much remain unsaid? Were parents on TV sleeping in the same bed yet when this was published? Did JCO excise certain details to get this published? Has she ever done that? 

This story is masterful in its study of gender violence, and an insightful description as to how a promiscuous girl can quickly change her "yes" from the night before to a "maybe" with the new boy, to an outright "no," which happens right about the time she realizes he's much older than her. 

At the end, I kind of feel like she's walking into the sea with stones in her pocket. For some reason I'm also thinking of Kate Chopin's The Awakening.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 4, 2013 - 9:00am

^^well said, michael. yeah, i just had this visual of CAPE FEAR pop into my head.


Michael.Eric.Snyder's picture
Michael.Eric.Snyder October 4, 2013 - 5:27pm

Yeah, that's almost perfect. The Cape Fear De Niro is a very similar look. And what a great movie! One of my all time favorite scary movies. I wonder how it holds up. I haven't seen it in years. 

I also can't help but ponder the title. The victim of this story is the girl Connie, and it seems to me Oates despises her for it. I read the title as an indictment against her. Like, perhaps if she'd taken a closer look at who she's been (perhaps a bit too promiscuous), and changed her ways, she wouldn't have been in the position to be victimized by Arnold Friend. 

Yeah, I think Oates despises both Arnold and Connie, their archetypal representations of the worst of each gender, if that makes any sense, and in the middle of the sexual revolution in the 60s. 


Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 5, 2013 - 8:29am

right. JCO seems to be saying, "you don't know what you want, you don't know anything yet, you're a kid. you want it all, you want that boy, you think you can make all of those decisions? well HERE. BAM. this is the reality. it's ugly and dangerous and not sexy not fun."

i wonder how many people assume that what happens next is rape and murder? or does she just run off with them, willingly? i think THAT is part of what makes this so powerful that JCO doesn't show us the ending, whatever comes next for Connie. each of us has to push our minds out into the future and what we see, well, that's a little bit of ourselves reflecting back, yeah?

Michael.Eric.Snyder's picture
Michael.Eric.Snyder October 5, 2013 - 1:37pm

Hey Richard, I see what you're saying. And yeah, any interpretation has a little bit of us in it, and definitely it's open as to what happens to her after Connie leaves with Arnold. But for me, I see Arnold's threats against her family as the overriding factor in her decision, dazed and slightly surreal as it's described by Oates, to leave with the two men, so I have trouble seeing her decision to go with them as uncoerced. It's hard for me not to see more violence perpetrated against Connie when Arnold is so casual with the threat of it.

I see it as emotional extortion. But an extortion that's made possible because of her overall fast and loose lifestyle. That's where I see Oates's judgment coming in, and that's where I see the title coming in. The dark side of the sexual revolution. Not that Oates is really judgmental. Just that it's the angle she's coming from for this particular story.

Michael.Eric.Snyder's picture
Michael.Eric.Snyder October 5, 2013 - 1:40pm

Matt, I'm not getting the supernatural current, but if you have the chance to elaborate.... ?

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 5, 2013 - 1:49pm

i was going to try to elaborate and then i found this, which pretty much nails it (bold is my emhpasis):

"The ending kind of creeps up on you, in much the same way that Arnold gradually and insistently convinces Connie to join him in his car. The story starts off in a psychologically realistic mode as it registers every nuance in Connie's sensibility. But as Connie realizes how much danger she's in, the story sort of shifts gears. The language moves from realism to an almost surreal or supernatural register. Connie is described as feeling possessed – her heart is a "pounding, living thing inside this body that wasn't really hers either" (155) – and having an out-of-body experience – "[s]he watched herself push the door slowly open as if she were back safe somewhere in the other doorway" (160). This sounds more like a science fiction or horror film than the everyday world. When Arnold calls her his "blue-eyed girl," when her eyes are really brown, Connie's transformation into something else (a ghost? zombie? heroine?) seems complete.

So the story does prepare us for an ending that's a bit fantastic or surreal. When Connie steps out to join Arnold, she no longer sees the driveway or her neighborhood, but just "vast sunlit reaches of the land behind him and on all sides of him." We never learn what happens. Does Arnold keep his word and do all the things to Connie that he says he will? Does Connie live or die? Does she ever return home? How we interpret those "sunlit reaches" depends on how we interpret Connie's actions. Is she making a noble act of self-sacrifice, joining Arnold so he won't harm her family? (Are those "vast sunlit reaches" a positive glimmer in an otherwise horrible situation?) Or has she fallen apart and submitted totally to Arnold's will? (Are the "sunlit reaches" something more sinister, like a nuclear holocaust?) What do you think? Rather than answering the questions embedded in the story's title, the ending only seems to open up more questions."

when we were talking about Cape Fear, it also reminded me of Angel Heart a bit. i always thought Friend was a bit of a devil/demon vibe, too. his command of language, the fake youth. is he even human? lots of weirdness in this story for sure.

Michael.Eric.Snyder's picture
Michael.Eric.Snyder October 5, 2013 - 10:18pm

Okay, I can see that. I think the elements were just too subtle for me to pick up on. The details do echo and reaffirm for the reader that a transition inside Connie is definitely occurring, through what Connie feels but cannot articulate to herself in any sort of rational manner--understandable, given the situation. Kind of reminds me of the sort of disassociation victims undergo when enduring super traumatic things (When Rabbit Howls and Sybil come to mind), only of course on a more low key level—like maybe a semi fugue state.

I can't decide if the semi-conscious decision to walk out the door weakens or strengthens Connie's character.

One detail also that struck me, and might be easily resolved if I wanted to take the time for another read, is Oates's mention of Connie's wet back. She mentions it near the end, and I'm assuming it refers to sweat/perspiration in the heat and stress of the moment... but it still feels like an odd detail to include. 

Also, the name of Arnold's friend, Ellie. Oddly feminizing name for a male. That interests me. 

Avery'd discussion about gender (via Natalie Portman) is relevant here. Is Connie a feminist for her time? Or Is this an indictment against feminism?  


MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions October 6, 2013 - 2:40am

That's exactly it Richard: "...the devil/demon vibe...is he even human?"

In my opinion JCO walks a very fine line with this, but there are definitely hints in the subtext suggesting he's the devil himself.

The first level of subtext is his inside knowledge. He knows her name (fine), he knows all her friends names (also fine), but it's very difficult to account for this conversation:

"He aint coming. He's at a barbecue."

"How do you know that?"

"Aunt Tillie's. Right now they're--uh--they're drinking. Sitting around," he said vaguely, squinting as if he were staring all the way to town and over to Aunt Tillie's back yard..."There's your sister in a blue dress, huh? And high heels, the poor sad bitch...(and this bit oddly channels Connie's own interior observations of her sister) and your mother's helping some fat woman with the corn."

Then Connie takes the veracity a step further by identifying the fat woman: "Oh, that's Mrs. Hornby...Who invited her?"

One more piece of inside knowledge (the one bit of info that I have trouble understanding) is when he brings up the woman up the road with the chickens and Connie says she's dead.

Now it's not impossible for Arnold to know all of this, or to guess it or make it up, but it is very very implausible. 

The second level, as Richard points out, is his language. At one point he has "the voice of the man on the radio." Later she hears an exact rhythm from a song that had been popular a year before. Then he goes into this whacky nonsense speech (that I love): "...don't squeeze in my chipmuk hole, don't sniff my glue, suck my popscicle..." It's like his language is a recorded thing or collage, not fully under his command.

Finally his appearance grows in stages of costumed unreality: she describes him having painted eyes, a wig, his face looking somehow painted, but not all the way down his neck, smiling out from a mask, then down to his boots being stuffed with something, wobbly feet pointing at weird angles (cloven hoofed perhaps?).

And a few other things jump out, like the line: "Don't you know who I am?" Or his deal to not come in the house.

This story is from the sixties, and I have a sense that this is the kind of interpretive reading that people enjoyed more back then--symbolism, identifying universal themes, etc. Fiction has gone through a lot of transformations since then, and I think today people prefer to read this story thinking Friend is of this world (I certainly do), rather than the actual devil. Today we're alot more scared if he's human. Back then, maybe the opposite was true.

I think JCO just gets it right, allowing either interpretation: the devil subtext can make him a creepier human, or it can make him the actual devil. If she tipped it a little further toward the supernatural (channeling observations through Connie allows her to get away with a lot), I don't think it would be the classic it is today.

Michael.Eric.Snyder's picture
Michael.Eric.Snyder October 6, 2013 - 9:13am

Those are great observations. The contemporary interpretation, here in the Information Age, would be that he is a stalker. Back in the 60s, however, I don't think "stalking" was thought of in quite the same way. So the interpretation might lend itself more readily to the supernatural, given that sort of omniscience. 

But even so, if it had been written today, there is no sense that he has been watching her for any length of time. In other words, not enough time (overnight) to gather the amount of information needed to be so aware of her life. 

Your other observations also support this and the tale almost becomes a parable. Maybe not even almost. 

That is very good and adds a depth to the story I wasn't seeing. 

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 6, 2013 - 6:18pm

brilliant commentary, matt. you really touched on everything i was trying to get to, and then some. the weird boot angle/cloven hooves! yes! lots there to hint at his having "otherworldly" powers. sure, some could be known or guessed, but much seemed to be his vision. such a great story, really have to steal more from this. love the language, too, those "hip" phrases. like you said, almost like a list, a recording. information from a memeory bank someplace. good stuff. this story is easily in my top ten ever, the more i read it, the more i realize that. i think because it's taught so much i tend to avoid talking about it a lot, as it's ALREADY getting so much attention.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like October 7, 2013 - 8:04pm

First time reading this. I've ony read one other Oates story, a ghost story from an anthology several years ago.

It was alright. These days, I think someone would write this story with the first half or so trimmed down or out completely.

I thought AF seemed more drunk than demonic, but maybe I'm a rationalist. Some of the details of his appearance were odd, but they didn't nudge me towards a supernatural reading. The experience is related mainly through Connie, and is fairly littered with non-naturalistic description. I didn't ever feel like they were literal, rather they were sort of impressionistic or metaphorical. But I can believe she might have intended for them to be either literally supernatural or interpreted that way.

Linda's picture
Linda from Sweden is reading Fearful Symmetries October 8, 2013 - 3:58am

This short was the first story of hers I ever read, and I found it incredibly elusive and unsettling. At the time I kept a reading journal for a course, and I remember struggling like hell to gather my thoughts after I'd read it. A discussion like this one would have been very helpful.

MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions October 8, 2013 - 4:15am

@Michael: you mentioned parable, just saw JCO talk about the dedication to Bob Dylan (I didn't really know the connection), and she describes it in a very similar way, his songs at the time being like fairy tales or nursery rhymes that had gone wrong, simple language becoming a kind of gothic cautionary tale, which is how she saw her own writing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bM1TrEYOaNc

@Richard: Agreed, a lot worth stealing. A classic that gets more interesting/complex the more closely you read it...

Natasha Raulerson's picture
Natasha Raulerson from Florida is reading Runaway by Harlan Coben October 8, 2013 - 9:04am

This is a fantastic story.  I had to do a report on it last semester for my Short Fiction class.  Oates actually stated that the inspiration for this story came from a serial killer who was preying on young girls at the time.  While some people actually think friend is a demon he's actually symbolistic of a Satyr from Greek and Roman mythology and their ability to lure young girls. I was surprised when I did research on that.  Oates is a master at the craft.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like October 8, 2013 - 9:32am

As usual, reality is worse.


Elizabeth Smart is interviewed on today's 'Fresh Air'.

Michael.Eric.Snyder's picture
Michael.Eric.Snyder October 8, 2013 - 10:48am

Hey Matt, I checked out that link. Very cool.

MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions October 9, 2013 - 12:15am

Just another Satyr-day night...

@Natasha: thanks for the insight.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 9, 2013 - 8:14am

if this is the "go to" story for JCO, what is her SECOND best? i wonder what people look for after this one. there is a lot of her writing (novels, collections, and stories) that i haven't gotten to yet. what else of hers have you read that is amazing?

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Ira Levin October 10, 2013 - 8:46am

I meant to comment on this much, much sooner...

So wow, creepy, and so very good. The supernatural discussion angle is interesting, I didn't pick up on that when I read it (at least not subconsciously)

Kind of fills you with dread the further you read, as a reader Arnold Friend gave off odd vibes, then the discovery that his is 30 something and Ellis is more like 40. Suddenly so much more sinister. This line in particular is horrible:

"Yes, I'm your lover. You don't know what that is but you will," he said. "I know that too. I know all about you. But look: it's real nice and you couldn't ask for nobody better than me, or more polite. I always keep my word. I'll tell you how it is, I'm always nice at first, the first time. I'll hold you so tight you won't think you have to try to get away or pretend anything because you'll know you can't. And I'll come inside you where it's all secret and you'll give in to me and you'll love me "

"Shut up! You're crazy!" Connie said. She backed away from the door. She put her hands up against her ears as if she'd heard something terrible, something not meant for her. "People don't talk like that, you're crazy," she muttered. Her heart was almost too big now for her chest and its pumping made sweat break out all over her. She looked out to see Arnold Friend pause and then take a step toward the porch, lurching. He almost fell. But, like a clever drunken man, he managed to catch his balance. He wobbled in his high boots and grabbed hold of one of the porch posts.


I also noticed JCO uses flies a three points throughout the story: infesting the diner, to describe Connies relationship with her mother and Connie pretends to swat flies away when Arnold calls her cute.

Also I was wondering about the writing on the car, are these like trophies? Arnold references past girls, and we don't think this is the first instance when he has done this. The numbers in particular, are they the ages he was when he did things (17, 19, 33) are the slogans relating to this?


Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 10, 2013 - 9:34am

how did i miss this line:

And I'll come inside you where it's all secret

did she seriously say that? holy crap. 

good catch on the flies and the trophies on the car, the marking, like a WW2 fighter pilot, for bombing runs he survived, or notches on a belt or bedpost. creepy as hell. 

see, you say the supernatural isn't there for you but the FLIES. that always feels dark and dead and demon-ish to me, the flies. takes me back to Amityville Horror, right?

him wobbling in those boots, man, now i can't think of anything OTHER than cloven feet hooves

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer October 10, 2013 - 1:15pm

I remember studying this in a criticism class. One of the themes we isolated was that there is the way things seem on the surface, and then there is the way things are when you look deeper. From Arnold Friend's characterization to the writing in general, there are little things you don't notice at first that are disturbing when you find them later.

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Ira Levin October 11, 2013 - 1:30am

I haven't seen/read Amityville, so for me flies are going to mean death, decay, and uncleanliness. Real things rather than supernatural, although I totally get all the references to him wearing a mask and all the other odd things. I think the fact she swipes flies away after his compliment suggests it felt unclean to her.

As for the wobbly boots, JCO based the character of Arnold Friend on the serial killer Charles Schmit "The Pied Piper of Tucson" (who Jack Ketchum also based a story on)

Schmid was a short man who wore cowboy boots stuffed with newspapers and flattened cans to make him appear taller. He used lip balm, pancake makeup and created an artificial mole on his cheek. He also stretched his lower lip with a clothespin to make it resemble Elvis Presley's. He was called the "Pied Piper" because he was charismatic and had many friends in the teenage community of Tucson. Women liked him and he frequently met them at the Speedway area of Tucson. For a time, the members of his teenage coterie would keep the secrets of his murders.

I think the "blue eyed girl" reference relates to the song It's all over now, Baby Blue which was a major influence on JCO and the reason she dedicated this story to Bob Dylan.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 11, 2013 - 12:59pm

wow, great stuff on Schmit. didn't know that. very cool.

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Ira Levin November 8, 2013 - 5:39am

Are we going to do another of these soon? :)

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies November 8, 2013 - 10:47am

we should. i nominate "Puppy" by George Saunders

MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions November 10, 2013 - 4:13am

"Puppy" would be fun.

Carly Berg's picture
Carly Berg from USA is reading Story Prompts That Work by Carly Berg is now available at Amazon November 10, 2013 - 5:22am

I read this story decades ago and still remember how creeped out I was by it. JCO is so masterful.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies November 25, 2013 - 12:47pm

I dissected this story for STORYVILLE, if you're not SICK of this already!


Eddie McNamara's picture
Eddie McNamara from NYC is reading High as the Horse's Bridles November 25, 2013 - 3:17pm

JCO tends to play on the woman-as-victim in her stories, and in this case Connie (somewhat) willingly goes with Arnold Friend to save her family. This is a gesture of love on Connie's part, sacrificing herself for them. Top story.


I'm in the A. Friend as the Devil camp. 

Richard, that writeup was fantastic. Nice one

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies November 26, 2013 - 3:42pm

thanks, eddie