Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates is simply spellbinding. With haunting dialogue and description, the story builds right to the end. One Story Magazine recently listed their top ten favorite short stories, along with an additional twenty-six stories to flush out the “long list.” This story made the long list.
A fifteen year old girl named Connie spends time with her friends at the shopping plaza and the movies getting mixed up with older kids. One summer night, she “sucked in her breath with the pure pleasure of being alive,” and at this moment she first sees Arnold Friend.
On Sunday, Arnold Friend and his male friend Ellie show up at her house while her family has gone away for the day to a BBQ. Arnold is a hipster in a black jacket and tight jeans in convertible. “He hadn’t shaved for a day or two, and the nose long and hawklike, sniffing as if she was a treat he was going to gobble up and it was all a joke.” He starts trying to entice her to go for a ride with him.
During this conversation, Arnold Friend’s appearance changes to Connie. She sees he is older than he first appeared, that he might be wearing a wig. At one point she sees “One of his boots was at a strange angle, as if his foot wasn’t in it.”
Arnold cajoles Connie with a haunting combination of sweet talk and threats. “I’ll have my arms tight around you so you won’t need to try to get away and I’ll show you what love is like, what it does.” At one point Friend mentions a neighborhood woman who died. He talks smoothly to Connie, appealing to her vanity and threatening to harm her family. The dialogue and the descriptions of this scene are so unnerving and realistic. It’s as though Arnold Friend is the grim reaper himself. Downright creepy.
After reading the story, I was even more haunted to research and learn Oates was inspired to write the story after reading about three murders that were committed in Tucson, Arizona in the sixties.