Short Story #265: Heat by Joyce Carol Oates

Title:  Heat 

Author:  Joyce Carol Oates


Photo of Joyce Carol Oates.  Source: and Rhoda Kunkel were eleven-year-old twins who basked in their youth and were a bit of hellions in the town, but now are being buried.  The twins were murdered by Roger Whipple, who was mentally unfit and spent his dying days in a psychiatric hospital.  He would be buried in the same hospital as the twins.  The narrator notices how different the girls are in the casket than in real life.  The narrator notes how Whipple was a good-natured but in special education but also as someone who was someone that was giggled at often.  The narrator was a friend of Rhea and Rhoda and explains just how lively they were.  The narrator shares more anecdotes of the twins and the power they exerted over others, including herself.  She explains that they regularly tested their powers over other people.   Roger insisted that he didn't do anything but also that he couldn't remember anything.   Rhea and Rhoda had gone up to Whipple's Ice, where Roger worked his family business of cutting ice.  He was worked hard at the business but never said a word, despite how hot it was. They had rode their bikes around him in a slightly teasing fashion, trying to see how close they could get to him.  He enjoyed the attention and excitement.  After enjoying ice that he provided, they dump the remainder in the dirt.  He tells them that he has some secret things in his room.  The girls are interested and Rhea first offers to go up to see since Roger says only one can go to see it at a time.  Rhea and Roger are in the room for a while and Rhoda gets impatient.  Finally, Roger comes back out but with no sign of Rhea.  But the narrator tells us nothing more of what happened.  The Whipples called the police after finding the bodies in the back of the icehouse.  Mr. Whipple knows immediately what had happened.  The narrator reflects that since the Whipples' business ended and the parents had died, the house is now occupied by others.  She remembers it because a while back after she married, she had a lusting affair and they would often meet behind the barn.  She would think of Rhea and Rhoda while in this car and this too reminded her of her parents watching over her after the twins' murders.  While in the car with her lover, she would look and think about how the events had played out.  The story ends with the narrator saying she wasn't there but some things, people just know.  


Oates weaves past and present so well together.  The chronology all fits together but is not clearly delivered which is making the story more engaging.  More importantly, she takes straightforward story of two girls murdered by someone who may not have even understood what he did and uses it to explore adolescence, friendship, the relationships among adults and children, and of community, all interwoven into some fantastic lines.  Even moreso, we have this narrator who relates the tale with intimate details that make one wonder who and what she did or didn't do.  She seems to faun over the twins and yet, there is a tint of anger and resentment in her tone.  She seems to have intimate details of the events though no one else does. 

Short Story #265 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  8/1/2014
Source:  The short story can be found at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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