Tue 26 Jul 2016
JOYCE CAROL OATES “Did You Ever Slip on Red Blood?” Originally published in Harper’s Magazine, April 1972. Reprinted in Urban Horrors, edited William F. Nolan & Martin H. Greenberg (Dark Harvest, hardcover, 1990; Daw, paperback, 1993).
One thing that can be undoubtedly said for Joyce Carol Oates is that she is, and continues to be, a prolific writer and an important voice in American letters. Another thing that can be stated is that she is an expert wordsmith, one whose writing is replete with sentences that appear to flow together effortlessly and naturally.
At least that’s the case for “Did You Ever Slip On Red Blood?” a haunting work of literary horror that originally appeared in the pages of Harper’s. Written in an experimental style with a non-linear timeframe, the story recalls the life and times of one Robert Severin, a counterculture political activist.
As the story unfolds, the reader begins to learn that somehow, in some manner, Severin is the link that binds together two people who otherwise wouldn’t have met: a stewardess named Marian and her lover named Oberon. Rather than tell the story with in straightforward linear manner, Oates begins the story at the ending and then goes back to the beginning – or, more accurately, a series of beginnings – and then finally recounts the moment in which Marian and Oberon met face to face.
As it turns out, what brought these two lovers together was a scenario that would have been a very believable one to urban readers in 1972, the year the story first appeared in print. Severin, the reader learns, was acquitted of one crime, but went on to engage in a far more serious crime; namely, hijacking an airliner. It was there that Severin and Marian first met and where Marian would end up slipping in red blood. “Did You Ever Slip on Red Blood?” traverses genre categories. It’s a thriller, a work of crime fiction, and urban horror fiction.