Quentin P. is a serial killer hidden in plain sight. Written in the style of a psychopath's personal journal (with scribbles, drawings, and strange digressions), Quentin P. is a convicted child molester. He is convicted of sexually assaulting a young black boy, and after his conviction (he pleads guilty at the advice of his lawyer who does not want the trial to become a charged with accusations of racism). His sentence is suspended, and Quentin becomes the caretaker of a guest house owned by his parents.
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Since the journal entries are written out of order, we piece together bits and pieces of the main character's life. Oates based the character off the real-life story of Jeffrey Dahmer. Quentin talks about his father finding his gay sex porn and forcing him to burn it so his mother would not find it. There are snippets of therapy sessions with his shrink, and Quentin reveals that he is a student in the local community college. Quentin has a unique style of writing, and reading the novel makes it feel like you are inside of his mind.
Quentin describes how he entraps and victimizes the young men he finds.
The central plot of the novel is Quentin's plan to kidnap a young boy he has become obsessed. Quentin confides to us (via his private journal); he is interested in raping and killing young men whom no one would miss, run-aways, and kids on the street. All of his victims have nicknames, and he calls his newest target Squirrel.
Quentin devises a way to kidnap Squirrel. He buys a van and covers it up so no one can look inside. He raises thirty-six chicken, which he loads up on the back of his truck. He observes Squirrel's habits and stalks him. He works at a local family restaurant. After Squirrel's shift, the boy usually rides his bike home. Quentin spills the chicks onto the alley where Squirrel rides. Distracted by the chicks, Quentin uses this moment to kidnap the boy. He molests and murders him and saves a trophy, as he does all of his victims.
The novel ends without Quentin getting caught (even though he kept a trophy of Squirrel in his house). He gets angry at the news broadcasters who intimate that the boy may still be alive. The last sentence of the novel is Quentin's mother calling, presumably asking if he can come home for Christmas dinner.
Best part of story, including ending:
The novel treats a taboo subject and people may wonder what is the value in reading about a serial rapist and murderer. I liked how Joyce Carol Oates brazenly gets into the mind of her character. Quentin P. is disturbing, but one of the greatest features of fiction is to create the inner life of a person we may never even want to be.
Best scene in story:
I liked the pathetic scene in the family restaurant, where Quentin, like an unrequited lover, longs for the attention of Squirrel even though Squirrel has no idea that Quentin has feelings for him. It's a creepy scene, but one that shows both the delusions Quentin suffers, and the total inability he has to change his behavior.
Opinion about the main character:
Quentin P. is a loathsome character. I disliked his ability to remain hidden in plain sight. No one seems to suspect him of Squirrel's murder (except maybe for Quentin's father).