Tag 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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387 Short Stories: Day 23: Story 23: Heat by Joyce Carol Oates

Heat and Other Stories by Joyce Carol Oates Title: Heat
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Taken from the Collection: Heat and Other Stories

“Heat” by Joyce Carol Oates, like all her other works is supremely disturbing and Gothic in nature. She tends to write stories that grab you by the throat and leave you breathless. This story is also something like that. It is of twins – Rhea and Rhoda Kunkel and how they meet their end one summer at the hands of a neighbour – a mentally unstable teenager, Roger Whipple. That in short, is the crux.

However, Oates makes it more than just this. The adjectives and the style of writing are enchanting. She knows how to create an atmosphere of sorts and then to ruin it with the harsh reality surrounding it. As a reader, I thought the story got its closure quite well. I did not hanker for more, nor did I think she could have written more when it came to this one. The undertones are brilliant – jealousy, the nature of God, families’ need to protect, and the idea of being a bully also is depicted vividly. A story that gives you the chills.

Book Review: Mudwoman by Joyce Carol Oates

Title: Mudwoman
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: Fourth Estate, Harper Collins
ISBN: 978-0007481811
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 448
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Every time I set out to read a new novel, I am a little apprehensive. Questions plague the mind: What if I do not like the book? What if it’s a waste of time? What if I cannot relate to a single character in the book? However that does not happen whenever I am out to read a new Joyce Carol Oates book.

I discovered Oates through the Oprah Book Club (the only time I was grateful to her and her show). She had chosen, “We Were the Mulvaneys” in January 2001 and I could not wait to get my hands on it. At that time there was no Flipkart or HomeShop18. I had to depend on my local bookstore and I received it in a matter of four weeks. I raced through and could not stop recommending it to friends. Sadly, they were not interested. Since then I haven’t recommended Oates to a lot of people. I am happy in the knowing that only I get to read what she writes. Till I read one of her recent books and as usual, I have to tell people about it.

“Mudwoman” is classic Joyce Carol Oates. There is a lot of darkness surging underneath, there is the psychotic (well almost) female protagonist, the girl’s deranged mother, and the different writing styles at various points in the book.

Let me also tell you that it is not easy to read Oates. It took me a long time to get into the book and actually start enjoying it. Mudwoman revolves around Jedina Kraek from the time she is a little girl to when she becomes a woman and lives out her life. When she is three, her mother tries to murder her and her five-year old sister. Jedina is shaved bald as a part of her mother’s delusions and thrown in the mud flat near the Black Snake River, left to drown. Fortunately, Jedina is found by a mentally challenged local trapper and taken into a foster family for several years. After this, a childless Quaker couple, the Neukirchens, adopt her and give her a new name – Meredith Ruth Neukirchen.

Amidst all this, Meredith tries very hard to make her adoptive parents proud – from excelling in her studies to winning a scholarship to being an overachiever to wanting a new life for herself, away from her roots and everything she had to go through. At 41, she is the first female president of a prestigious Ivy League university and calls herself M.R. Neukirchen and lives alone in a historic, almost macabre house.

This is the plot of the book. Told in alternating chapters – present day to when M.R. was a girl, Mudwoman is an account of a woman (in almost like most of Oates’ books) with a past, a present that is not too fulfilling and a future that she is unaware and unsure of. The writing as usual is strong, but at times tends to get a bit of a drag. However, once those parts are done with, Mudwoman is a delightful read. I highly recommend this one.

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Book Review: Little Bird of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates

Title: Little Bird of Heaven
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: 4th Estate, Harper Collins
ISBN: 978-0007342549
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 448
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I discovered Joyce Carol Oates a long time ago. I think about ten years or so. Since then I have always looked forward to what she writes and she churns out at least two books or so every year. Maybe even more. The fact of the matter is that she writes like a dream. Her prose is something else. It is of the macabre, the darkness, the sexually obsessed, of strained relationships and all about life as is – in your face and not a happy place to be in.

So when I got the opportunity to read and review one of her books, I could not help but give it a go. “Little Bird of Heaven” could be a love story. It could also be a murder mystery and a deep psychological drama. Joyce Carol Oates very cleverly makes the book about all of those.

“Little Bird of Heaven” takes place in a small town called Sparta in New York, where a young mother is found dead. The primary suspects are her estranged husband and a married man with whom she was having an affair. But that is not the story. The story is about the lady’s son Aaron and her lover’s daughter Krista who are virtually strangers to each other, and now linked to each other by this crime, as they struggle to be on opposite sides, while being infatuated with one another.

The story seems threadbare but it isn’t so. There are layers to it and rightly so, as this is just what Oates likes to deliver. Her narrative of this book is unique and surpasses somehow anything she has ever written. The first half of the book is told from Krista’s perspective, a young girl, who wants to believe in her father and somehow is torn between what is real and what she thinks of as reality.

The second part is told from Aaron’s perspective. It is less vocal, more introspective. It is about hidden emotions and not displaying any of them, even when your mother is no longer a part of the world. Despite this, Oates does not get sentimental at any point in the book. She writes with raw intensity and emotions that are in check. That is what is needed for a book like this I guess.

“Little Bird of Heaven” is about a lot of things – the past, the present and how the future shapes our lives. It is about emotional longing and cruelty. Of how children endure the pain and how they deal with it. This book is not a light read. It is about life on the edge and how the characters hang on to it. Joyce Carol Oates writes with some riveting insight. There is no happy ending; however I will definitely recommend this book to all.

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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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