Category Archives: Joyce Carol Oates

Beautiful Days: Stories by Joyce Carol Oates

Beautiful Days Title: Beautiful Days: Stories
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: Ecco, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0062795786
Genre: Short-Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

You just don’t read a book by Joyce Carol Oates. You experience it like no other. You soak in the words, till their brutality cuts you deep and then you use the same words to be work as balm and heal those wounds. That is the beauty of the writing of Joyce Carol Oates, it just doesn’t let you be and at the same time you feel so distant from it after you are done reading it. Only to realize that you will go back to it at some point.

I discovered the writing of Oates on Oprah Winfrey Show when she picked “We Were the Mulvaneys”. That was in early 2000s I think and since then I have not stopped reading Oates’ writing. I cannot thank Oprah Winfrey enough for this.

“Beautiful Days” is a new collection (well, some of them have been published earlier) by the American master of story-telling. Let me just start by saying that Joyce Carol Oates’ characters are so broken that you might find it very hard to relate to them and yet as the story progresses, you start seeing them around you.

“Fleuve Bleu” examines an adulterous relationship and how the people involved in it are overcome by guilt, heartbreak, love, passion and sometimes plain apathy. This was one of my favourite in the collection, only because of the way Oates describes it all – the anger, the frustration of being together and sometimes not being together, of letting go, of having let go and its consequences. While on the other hand in “Big Burnt” a professor cunningly manipulates a woman, who is in love with him. The pathos, the helplessness and moreover the humour (sardonic but there) of being played by someone shines through superbly in this story.

So, I realized one thing while reading this collection, which is, you cannot take sides when it comes to reading any Oates’ story or book. She doesn’t let you take sides. Maybe that is the intention after all. “Undocumented Alien” however made me take sides. I had to. I was so involved in it, that there was nothing else to do. The story is about a young African student enrolled in an American university who is suddenly stripped of his student visa and that’s when all complications begin.

These are just some of the stories that I have loved, but I cannot possibly go on about all of them. The idea is that Oates’ writing only grows better with time (if that can ever happen). There is no best time to start reading her. You just have to start. Perhaps start reading her short stories. Oates’ landscapes are also quite brutal. It is almost that they match the characters’ lives, inner turmoil and sense of irresponsibility (sometimes). Her characters are careless, also callous, and often don’t know what they want or know quite well what they do not want. They strive, they fight demons and sometimes emerge victorious. Most times, they are only human.

 

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Book Review: First Love by Joyce Carol Oates

Title: First Love: A Gothic Tale
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: Ecco Books, Harper Collins
ISBN: 9780880014571
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 86
Source: Library
Rating: 5/5

Life is cruel and loneliness is its master. Josie learns this soon enough. This is the story of a bewildered eleven-year old who only wants to be loved by the people around her and fails getting it. Oates wrote this novella in 1996 and though I only read it now, it still seems fresh, even after fifteen years.

The background of the novella is that Josie’s mother left her husband and has now moved to another state to live with her mother’s cousin. Josie’s mother drifts away in a new town – new men to date and new jobs to explore, leaving Josie all alone to explore the lay of the land. Her 25-year old cousin Jared is studying to be a minister. She meets him and a sordid love story (or not) takes place. He has his own demons to conquer (or he is unable to) and he enjoys the dominance he displays using her as the bait. Her naïve eleven-year old mind mistakes this for love.

There are sub-texts and layers of sexual references and the reader senses sexual abuse and yet Josie is not the one without a conscience. After being asked to commit a horrendous crime and refusing it, Jared blocks Josie out of his life. The family crumbles. Delia S (Josie’s mother) takes off in her own direction and path, paying very little attention to her daughter. The great-aunt is bed-ridden and Jared goes on back to the seminary to complete his studies. This is when Josie finds her freedom and her will to live.

On the surface, it seems a pretty simple novella to understand and garner, however it is not the case. As I said earlier, there are sub-texts to the novella – mostly loneliness, alienation, of sexual awakening, incest, and of knowing what love is not.

Joyce Carol Oates is the mistress of her craft. What most authors cannot manage in 500 pages, she does in 86 pages and quite convincingly though. At no point did I want to know more or did I feel there was more to be said once I finished this novella. The adage to the title of “A Gothic Tale” could not be any truer. It is a gothic tale – both in its atmosphere and its storyline. The book is raw and not apologetic about it. I would not recommend it to people with faint hearts, however I highly recommend it nonetheless.

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