Sixteen year-old Katya Spivak is out for a walk on the gracious streets of Bayhead Harbor with her two summer babysitting charges when she's approached by silver-haired, elegant Marcus Kidder. At first, his interest in her seems harmless, even pleasant; like his name, a sort of gentle joke. His beautiful home, the children's books that he's written, his classical music, the marvelous art in his study, his lavish presents to her: Mr. Kidder's life couldn't be more different from Katya's drab working-class existence back home in South Jersey, or more enticing. But by degrees, almost imperceptibly, something changes, and posing for Mr. Kidder's new painting isn't the light-hearted endeavor it once was. What does he really want from her? And how far will he go to get it?
In the tradition of Oates’s classic story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" A Fair Maiden is an unsettling, ambiguous tale of desire and control.
Innocently it began. When Katya Spivak was sixteen years old and Marcus Kidder was sixty-eight.
On Ocean Avenue of Bayhead Harbor, New Jersey, in the thickening torpor of late-morning heat she'd been pushing the Engelhardts' ten-month-old baby in his stroller and clutching the hand of the Engelhardts' three-year-old daughter, Tricia, passing the succession of dazzling and dreamlike shops for which Ocean Avenue was known—the Bridal Shoppe, the Bootery, the Wicker House, Ralph Lauren, Lily Pulitzer, Crowne Jewels, the Place Setting, Pandora's Gift Box, Prim Rose Lane Lingerie & Nightwear—when, as she paused to gaze into the Prim Rose Lane window, there came an unexpected voice in her ear: "And what would you choose, if you had your wish?"
What registered was the quaint usage your wish. Your wish, like something in a fairy tale.
At sixteen she was too old to believe in fairy tales, but she did believe in what might be promised by a genial male voice urging your wish.