I have just read “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates, a short story about a girl who is punished for not conforming to her gender’s social expectations.
It starts out quite normal, with a pretty teenage girl, Connie, who resents her mother who doesn’t understand her and prefers her less attractive and more “sorted” sister. It then gets really creepy towards the end with the appearance of a guy with a gold car who is interested in Connie and puts her in a dangerous situation. Connie feels threatened by this guy, who expects her to get in his car with him and go off somewhere, and is freaked out when he describes what her family are doing at that same moment while they are out at a party.
Connie is a normal teenage girl, who acts one way with her family, and another, more mature and sexualised way with her friends, keeping her two personalities separate, until this strange guy, Arnold Friend comes around and her two personalities come crashing together. She realises just how dangerous her sexuality can be in the wrong situation and is forced out of childhood and into adulthood as a result of this terrifying experience.
Arnold Friend seems to be a cool boy at first, but as the tale progresses the description of him gets more worrying, with little things adding to the unease around this strange character. The fact that he is unsteady on his feet suggests he is possibly drunk, he knows more than he should know about Connie, her family and her friends, and runs through a list of old-fashioned expressions he thinks are cool when he tells his friend to leave him to it. It’s not clear if Arnold is a real man or a nightmare that Connie is having, but their interaction changes the way Connie sees the world.
There is a lot of tension in this short story, and it’s really creepy! It’s quite a disturbing wake-up call when you realise how much trouble your sexuality can cause when you’re barely mature enough to understand what it means to you and to other people. What you think is a game is very real to others who are older than you.
I give it 8/10 because it is well written, the atmosphere is very tense, and it makes you think a lot about being that age when everything is confusing and think you’re being mature when you’re clearly not.
If you want to read it, this link takes you to a PDF version: