Freaky Green Eyes
Front cover of the hardcover edition
|Author||Joyce Carol Oates|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
|Pages||342 pp (first edition)|
Freaky Green Eyes (2003) was the third young-adult fiction novel written by Joyce Carol Oates. The story follows the life of 15-year-old Francesca "Franky" Pierson as she reflects on the events leading to her mother's mysterious disappearance. Through what she calls Freaky's thoughts, Franky accepts the truth about her mother's disappearance and her father's hand in it.
Oates has said that the O.J Simpson case and the amount of media coverage it received inspired her to write "Freaky Green Eyes." The novel's two primary themes, domestic violence and life in the media spotlight, raised questions about social taboo, teen anxiety and the relationship between silence and truth.
The novel opens with Franky explaining how "Freaky" came into her life. It was the week before her 14th birthday and she went to a college party near the Puget Sound in Washington with some friends from her high school. While there, she met Cameron (a college freshman at the University of South Carolina), who encouraged Franky to drink her pee and tried to rape her. As a strong swimmer, Franky used her legs to kick Cameron hard enough to get him off of her. Afterward, Cameron looked at her and said, "You should see your eyes! Freaky green eyes!"
Franky, now 15, lives in Yarrow Heights (a suburb of Seattle) with her father, Reid Pierson, her mother Krista Pierson, her younger sister Samantha and her half brother Todd. A sports reporter, Reid had a big contract go through with a TV network and wants to celebrate with his family. Krista, however, goes to an arts and crafts convention in Santa Barbara, California instead, which angers Reid. When Krista returns home, Franky starts to notice the tension between her parents, especially after overhearing them fight. She hears her mom say she does not want to go Reid's work gatherings because she feels like she doesn't fit in with his crowd. In turn, Reid gets mad that Krista isn't fulfilling her role as a wife.
Krista starts wearing scarves around her neck and long shirts to cover her wrists and arms, and Franky notices, thinking her mother is hiding bruises. Yet she cannot muster up the courage to ask her about it. Instead, she starts feeling resentful toward her mother, thinking all the fighting was Krista's fault for provoking Reid. Younger sister Samantha worries that Krista and Reid will divorce but both say that won't happen, "now or ever."
Slowly, Krista moves out of the house and into a small cabin in Skagit Harbor. She starts by taking her art supplies, then clothes and her dog, Rabbit. Whenever Reid is home, Krista lives in her cabin. When he leaves to cover sporting events, she comes back home to be with her children. Samantha sometimes calls Krista and begs her to come pick them up so they could all spend time together, but Krista always says no, saying it was their father's decision. Reid, however, say the opposite. Samantha's frustration angers Reid and he twists her arm to make her quiet, giving her welts.
For the Fourth of July, Franky and Samantha go with their father to Cape Flattery to stay with one of his friends. While there, Franky learns that Reid's friend's sons steal animals from a wildlife refuge and put them in cages to make their own zoo. In the middle of the night, Franky releases all the animals. When confronted about it the next morning, she confesses but says she's not sorry. Enraged, Reid grabs Franky and shakes her very hard, stopping only after his friend pulls him away.
Later that month, Reid finally lets the girls go down to Skagit Harbor to visit their mother. Franky vaguely remembers the cabin from her childhood, recognizing the fake rooster she had thought was real as a kid. Krista shows them around the property, including a small burrow hidden underneath a rock, but the reunion is cut short when Reid arrives, yelling at Franky and Samantha to pack up and get in his car. When they get in, Reid tells them Krista is having an affair and they should never forgive her for it.
After that, Krista tries to call and talk to her daughters, but Reid tells the new housekeeper to forbid it. Twyla, Franky's best friend, tells Franky that Krista calls her to talk about Franky and see how she is. Twyla tells Franky that Krista said, "Don't forget Mr. Rooster!" One night, Franky phones Krista and angrily tells her she never wants to see her again. The next day, she regrets what she said and tries to find her mother's number but can't find it. She had no idea the conversation the night before would be their last.
Krista (and her friend Mero Okawa) disappear. The police interview Franky about where Reid had been that night, but Franky says Reid took medication for a headache and slept the entire night. During the interview, she expresses her anger at her mother, only referring to her as "Krista Connor," not "mom." As a result of media attention on the case, Franky and her family move to Reid's defense lawyer's house on Vashon Island. While there, the defense lawyer coaches Samantha and Franky, telling them that if Reid would have left in the middle of the night, they would have heard him leave.
During this time, "Freaky" tries to convince Franky that something is not right. Franky searches the Internet and discovers that police investigators found "non-human" blood in the cabin, which she concludes belonged to the dog. One night, Franky dreams about her mother's cabin, and in the dream, the fake rooster is crowing. The next morning, Franky skips school and heads towards Skagit Harbor to visit her mother's cabin. She walks over toward the barn and looks into the secret burrow, where she finds her mother's journal, which Krista had kept throughout her separation with Reid. In the journal, Krista writes about how Reid beat and threatened to kill her. After reading the journal, Franky realizes what her father has done. She also recalls waking up the night her mother disappeared, hearing Reid coming into the house through a door they never use. Franky calls her Aunt Vicky to pick her up and they go to the police station. In a second interview, Franky tells the police the truth, not what she has been coached to say by her father or the defense lawyer.
Reid is convicted and sentenced to 50 years-to-life without parole for the deaths of Krista and Mero, whose bodies were found dumped at Deception Pass. Franky and Samantha, in the custody of their aunt, move to New Mexico.
- Francesca "Franky" Pierson
- The 15-year-old narrator and protagonist that keeps a journal to reflect on the time before her mother went missing.
- Krista Pierson
- Franky and Samantha's mother and also Todd's stepmother. Her maiden name is Connor (which is the name she used to sign her artwork). She had been a TV announcer before marrying Reid.
- Reid Pierson
- Franky, Samantha, and Todd's abusive father. He had been a famous professional football player before becoming a sportscaster for CBS.
- Samantha Pierson
- Franky's 10-year-old sister.
- Todd Pierson
- Franky and Samantha's 20-year-old half-brother who followed in his father's footsteps and plays college football.
- Krista's Jack Russell terrier dog.
- Mero Okawa
- Krista's gay friend in Skagit Harbor. Reid thought he was Krista's lover.
- Bonnie Lynn Byers
- Reid's first wife and Todd's mother. She was killed in a boating accident. Reid was the only witness. Her case was reopened after Krista's case was concluded.
Effect of tabloid journalism
Oates has said that her inspiration for the book was, "the O.J. Simpson case without the whole racial angle" The infamous O.J. Simpson case unfolded in 1994 with the discovery of O.J. Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman stabbed to death in Brown's home. The publicity during this case was greater than any murder trial seen, due to Simpson's fame as former professional football player and actor. After nine months of the criminal trial, the jury returned a not-guilty verdict. Years after the trial's conclusion, the case remains a public obsession.
Oates described what was going on in the Simpson trial as "tabloid hell:" a person cannot go anywhere without someone knowing who they are and what was going on in their life. Similarly, in Freaky Green Eyes, Reid Pierson's character has much in common with O.J. Simpson. He's a former pro-football player (as was Simpson) and also a sports broadcaster (which Simpson was as well). It has been described in the book that Reid had a charismatic personality, which many say was characteristic of Simpson too. Oates said, "I'm focusing on how a person who is a celebrity is so admired that he casts a kind of aura, that people stare at the aura, and they don't really want to see that the person himself is somewhat stunted." Oates wanted to shed some light on the society's mentality toward celebrities accused of grave crimes. People don't want to believe it because the person is famous. Through her novel, Oates is saying that just because someone (celebrity or not) presents himself or herself as something does not mean it is what they truly are. The novel makes that point when Reid Pierson is accused of being involved in the disappearance of Krista and Mero and the media makes up stories (or excuses). For example, the media came up with a story that Krista and Mero were lovers and decided to run away together.
Oates goes on to say that other events, such as the Monica Lewinsky controversy, show how tabloid journalism has gotten into society. She uses the Lewinsky case as an example because even the New York Times's coverage of the scandal was similar to how tabloids cover stories.
The meaning of "Freaky"
While Franky is the narrator, there are times in which the reader hears from someone else: Freaky, Franky's alter-ego. Throughout the novel, Franky tries to cope with and understand the whole situation. Most of the time she trusts that Reid tells her the truth. But that's where Freaky comes in. She tries to make Franky see the truth beyond Reid's lies, even though its not something Franky wants to believe. For example, when Reid tells Franky Krista will come back and Franky wants to believe him, Freaky tells her, "You know your mother is gone. You know she isn't coming back. Freaky knows." Deep down, Franky knows her father had something to do with her mother's disappearance and that Krista was not coming back, but she didn't want to believe it. Freaky was trying to help Franky accept the truth.
Freaky was not only a guide to help Franky seek the truth, but she was also the source of Franky's ethics. During Franky's trip for the Fourth of July, she meets the boys who had been taking animals out of a wildlife refuge and placing them in cages on their property. They were under-feeding the animals and treating them poorly, so Franky does what's right, saying it was out of "Freaky Green Eyes rush". Oates said Freaky was born out of her own inability to do things she wanted to do
Freaky stopped Franky from being so naive and boosted her confidence in herself and her opinions. Without Freaky, Franky would not have been able to help solve the mystery about her mother. She wouldn't have been able to do the right thing.
Krista (as well as Franky and Samantha) were all victims of Reid's domestic violence. The novel was written in a diary-like way from Franky's point of view after the fact, reflecting on the events leading to her mother's murder. The first sign of abuse was Krista wearing scarves and long sleeved shirts to cover up body parts, hiding the bruises underneath. Franky suspected it but never addressed it with her mother. Franky and Samantha had the attitude that silence was better, even though Reid abused them too. They even lied to the police when asked about if their parents had fought. Since Franky, Samantha and Krista were all silent about what had been going on, Reid never stopped abusing them. It has been said that, "silence is not a neutral act; rather, it is a politically regressive one that passively permits the continuation of violence". After Franky investigates herself and finds Krista's diary, justice is done when Reid is arrested, convicted and sentenced.
This is not the first time Oates writes about domestic violence. Oates' 1985 novel Solstice tells another story of abuse but with a different attitude. The main character in that novel, Monica, never says she was in an abusive relationship even after her boyfriend left a large scar on her jaw. Between these two books, Oates was showed how the view of domestic violence has change between the time the books were released. "The roughly 20 years between the publication of Solstice and Freaky Green Eyes do represent a paradigm shift in our thinking, but the ultimate message of Freaky Green Eyes is that American society [circa 2003] still has a long way to go in terms of how we deal with the problem." The problem still relevant today is: Reid never would have been punished without Franky's sole detective work. It would not be surprising if in 2020 Oates writes another novel with the same domestic violence theme and shows how society reacts to it then.
Freaky Green Eyes received positive reviews. ALA Booklist called it a, "fast-paced, first-person thriller." The Boston Herald named it one of 2003's, "most compelling fiction". Publishers Weekly gave Freaky Green Eyes a starred review saying that, “Oates builds the mounting tension masterfully, crafting a fast-paced narrative that will haunt readers long after the final page."
- Oates, Joyce Carol. Freaky Green Eyes. New York: HarperTempest, 2003. Oclc 181100387
- Oates, Joyce Carol. Freaky Green Eyes. New York: HarperTempest, 2003. Oclc 50598191
- Oates, Joyce Carol, and Stina Nielsen. Freaky Green Eyes. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, Inc, 2004. Oclc 55377460
- Oates, Joyce Carol, and Stina Nielsen. Freaky Green Eyes. Prince Frederick, Md: Recorded Books, 2004. Oclc 56081594
- Oates, Joyce Carol, and Stina Nielsen. Freaky Green Eyes.Prince Frederick, Md: Recorded Books, 2004. Oclc 56479447
- Oates, Joyce Carol, and Stina Nielsen. Freaky Green Eyes. Prince Frederick, Md: Recorded Books, 2004. Oclc 56596419
- Oates, Joyce Carol, and Stina Nielsen. Freaky Green Eyes. Prince Frederick, Md: Recorded Books, 2004. Oclc 56604722
- Oates, Joyce Carol. Freaky Green Eyes. London: HarperCollins Children's Books, 2004. Oclc 58831346
- Oates, Joyce Carol. Freaky Green Eyes . London: Collins, 2004. Oclc 56645948
- Oates, Joyce Carol. Freaky Green Eyes. London: HarperCollins Children's Books, 2004. Oclc 475267044
- Oates, Joyce Carol, and Stina Nielsen. Freaky Green Eyes. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2004. Oclc 55154644
- Oates, Joyce Carol. Freaky Green Eyes. New York: HarperTempest, 2005. Oclc 57723099
- Oates, Joyce Carol. Freaky Green Eyes [Hauptbd.]. Braunschweig: Diesterweg, 2008. Oclc 426146741
Similar books from Oates
Other novels by Joyce Carol Oates with similar themes and/or protagonists:
- Best Children's Books of 2003. "Best Children's Books 2003." Publishers Weekly 10 November 2003 28 March 2010.
- Oates, Joyce Carol. Freaky Green Eyes. New York City: HarperCollins, 2005. 17. ISBN 978-0-06-447348-4
- Jay MacDonald. "Interview with Joyce Carol Oates." BookPage. July 2008. Accessed 13 April 2010.
- Price, Richard, and Jonathan T Lovitt. "Confusion for Simpson kids 'far from over'." USA Today. 12 December 1997. Accessed 28 March 2010.
- Kate Pavao. Interview with Joyce Carol Oates Publishers Weekly. 15 September 2003. Accessed 28 March 2010.
- Jay MacDonald. Interview with Joyce Carol Oates. BookPage July 2008. Accessed 13 April 2010.
- Kate Pavao. "Interview with Joyce Carol Oates." Publishers Weekly. 15 September 2003. Accessed 28 March 2010.
- Horvitz, D. M. (1989). Literary trauma: Sadism, memory and sexual violence in American Women’s fiction. Albany, NY: SUNY Press
- Oates, Joyce Carol. Solstice. New York City, New York: Dutton, 1985. ISBN 978-0-525-24293-2
- Humann, Heather Duerre. "The (Trans)formation of Abusive Relationships: Representations of Domestic Violence in Joyce Carol Oates’s Solstice and Freaky Green Eyes." Journal of the Institute of Justice & International Studies. 9. (2008): 124–130
- Amazon rankings. Accessed 30 April 2010.