Category Archives: Joyce Carol Oates

Quotable Monday: Widowhood – Joyce Carol Oates

Suttee, 1826

I’m not a widow, but I re-stumbled across the below paragraph from the story “Probate” by Joyce Carol Oates and cannot get over how beautifully written and poignant an excerpt it is.  Her collection of short stories, Sourland, is teeming with memorably beautiful and painful quotes, but, for some reason, this one always leaps out at me.

The widow’s mistake had been, her husband had been her life. She was a tree whose roots had become entwined with the roots of an adjacent tree, a seemingly taller and stronger tree, and these roots had become entwined inextricably. To free the living tree from the dead tree would require an act of violence that would damage the living tree. It would require an act of imagination. Easier to imagine suttee. Easier to imagine swallowing handfuls of barbiturates, old painkiller medications in the medicine cabinet. I can’t do this. I can’t be expected to do this. I am not strong enough.

Joyce Carol Oates, “Probate” from her short story collection, Sourland

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Little Bird of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates

Title: Little Bird of Heaven
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Length: 448 pages
A little difficult to digest, at times, but, overall – an excellent read. 

As should be rather clear by now, I’m a big fan of Joyce Carol Oates.  Her stories are raw, brimming with emotion, and, more often than not, the types of stories that will infiltrate your dreams and haunt you for hours, days, or, sometimes, weeks after you put the book down.  These types of stories aren’t for everyone, but they’ve always been my cup of tea.

This latest choice, however, proved to be a little difficult for me to power through at times.  This wasn’t due to any flaw in her story or writing, but more-so because my brain has been overloaded by other stuff that I didn’t feel fully energized to pick up all that she was throwing down.  And, oh boy, does she throw it down….

Little Bird of Heaven is set in a fictitious town in New York – small, working-class, and a little rough around the edges.  The narrative is broken out into sections – two by Krista Diehl and one by Aaron Kruller.  The characters are linked by a gruesome crime – the murder of Aaron’s mother, Zoe Kruller, a local singer who dreams of making it big and getting far away from this town.

Krista’s father, Eddy, is a prime suspect in the case, due to his affair with Zoe and the fact that he is the last person known to see her alive.  The other prime suspect is Aaron’s father, known to have a jealous and violent streak to him.  The reader watches the lives of, well, everyone, fall apart.  Love blossoms, love dies.  Some are driven to succeed and others are weighed down by the past, burying their woes in drugs and alcohol.

As in all of her novels, Oates paints a poignant, beautiful, and treacherous picture of the fragility of life and humanity.  She wades far out into the muck and manages to find and produce something beautiful.

Check out Little Bird of Heaven on the HarperCollins Page.

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Quotable Monday: Love and Longing

How mysterious it is, to be in love.  For you can be in love with one who knows nothing of you.  Perhaps our greatest happiness springs from such longings — being in love with someone who is oblivious of you.

Joyce Carol Oates, Little Bird of Heaven

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Author Spotlight: Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates (June 16, 1938) is nothing short of amazing.  Highly prolific (she has published OVER 50 books since 1969), she has been the recipient of many awards and honors, including:

  • National Book Award winner for Them in 1970
  • PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction
  • Winner of the 2005 Prix Femina Etranger for The Falls
  • Finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Blonde
  • She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities @ Princeton University
  • Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (since 1973)
  • 2003 recipient of the Common Wealth Award for Distinguished Service in Literature
  • Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement
  • 2006 recipient of the Chicago Tribune Lifetime Achievement Award
  • 2009 recipient of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award
  • 2011 Honorary Doctorate of Arts awarded by the University of Pennsylvania
  • 2012 recipient of the Stone Award for Lifetime Literary Achievement from Oregon State University
 
Her writing is often disturbing, displaying some of the horror in our modern society as well as the trials and tribulations that everyday people struggle with.  Her writing is always beautiful and unique.  Oates successfully captures the voice of her characters, seamlessly slipping into their mannerisms, dialects, and psyches.
 
In addition to her novels, Oates has also published under two pseudonyms (Rosalind Smith and Lauren Kelly), essays, poetry, drama, fiction for young adults, as well as children’s books.  I feel as though nothing that I can manage to write here will do justice to her skill and career.  As someone who admires her deeply, all that I can hope for is that by highlighting her here, perhaps someone else will try out one of her novels.
 
Check out her page on the HarperCollins website for more information on upcoming releases.  Or the JCO official page via the University of San Francisco, also an excellent reference for a full bibliography.  This website also has a blog – Crossing the Border.
 
Joyce Carol Oates reads The Knife:
 

 

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Happy Thanksgiving! Books that I am thankful for…

For all of us in America, today is Thanksgiving.  For me, Thanksgiving is a good push to remind me to reflect upon all of the things in this world that I am thankful for.  And, every year, I tell myself that it is vital to keep all of these things fresh in my mind on a daily basis.  The older that I get, the easier it becomes to do this.  So, today, I decided would be the perfect opportunity to make a list of all of the books and/or authors that I am most thankful for.

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

Lord knows how many entries in this blog are now completely dedicated to either one of them and/or their children, but, as we know, Sylvia Plath is my all-time favorite.  Her signature is tattooed on my back.  All of her writing – whether it be poetry, prose, or her journal – inspires me.  She was the first writer that really got my jazzed about writing poetry and, if I’m ever in need of inspiration to write, I just pick up some of her work.

Ted Hughes writes differently than Plath, but thanks to my love of her, I was exposed to his work.  And I love it.  I won’t lie, I tend to prefer Birthday Letters to most of his other work, but all of his work is beautiful.  And this blog is named after a line from one of his poems, after all.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

This was a ‘required reading’ novel my sophomore year in high school.  The length looked daunting, but I started devouring it after getting into the first chapter.  The setting is bleak and the characters are awful to each other, which could potentially make for an entirely dreary read.  But, buried in all of this, there is a love and passion that just won’t cease to exist – no matter what.

As a teenage girl, yet to have a real boyfriend, I thought that the idea of having a Heathcliff in my life was absolutely DREAMY.  However, now, as a 27 year-old woman, I can honestly say that he would be exhausting to deal with.  Not to mention that in present-day, any sane woman would probably slap a restraining order on him as soon as possible, no matter how beautiful and dark he was.

In short, this is my kind of romance.  I revisit this book as frequently as possible.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

This book will (hopefully) disturb you, but it’s just so beautifully written, you can’t put it down.  Even translated, the prose writing by Nabokov is far more beautiful than the majority of poetry out there.  I am thankful every day that I made the choice to pick up this book and give it a whirl.  I would recommend this to everyone who loves and appreciates good literature.

Picture from Elle.com

Joyce Carol Oates

If I could meet any one person on the planet, I would easily – without hesitation – choose Joyce Carol Oates.  From the first pages of Beasts (the first book that I ever read by her), I have been madly in love with her work.  As I’ve mentioned in the past, I deeply admire her raw, honest writing and her ability to write her work so completely in the voice of her characters.  In addition to being a prolific writer, intelligent, and cutting edge, Oates is hilarious and charming, while not taking any gruff (or crummy interview questions) from anyone.

No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July

I already wrote about Miranda July earlier this week, but let us recap, shall we?  Miranda July, and all of work – specifically these stories – are refreshing.  She’s inspiration.  Her words bring me back to life, renew my hope, and get me really riled up to be alive.  Thank you for that, Ms. July.

Virginia Woolf

I am thankful for Virginia Woolf because, well, her writing is there to give me a good kick in the rear whenever I might be feeling a little too full of myself.  All I need to do is read the first page of The Waves and it’s like she’s speaking to me – Megan, now, you’re really not as smart as you sometimes think you are!  Silly Girl!  It’s true.  I own a fair number of her books, but have only successfully read two from beginning to end – To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway.  Some day, though, I hope to read them all.

Paradise by Toni Morrison

Read any book by Toni Morrison and you will be floored.  Her work is honest, raw, and powerful.  Paradise was the first book by her that I picked up to read that wasn’t a required reading book for school.  My praise for this novel is similar to my praise for Lolita – it’s poetic and beautiful.  Every page left me stunned by her power over the english language and left me wanting more.  Her work is a palpable reminder that there are still incredibly talented authors writing in the present-day.

The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson

Prior to reading these books, if you ever asked, I would have told you that I had absolutely zero interest in ever reading a series.  Back to back books written by the same author, featuring the same characters, and, most likely, written in a similar style, didn’t sound like a good time to me.  I’m all about variety.  Right?  Well, at the recommendation of a close friend, I gave these books a try.  I immediately fell in love with Lisbeth Salander and the intricate tales that Larsson was the master at weaving.  I am left wanting many, many more of these books.

I’m sure that after I post this, I am going to immediately think of a slew of other books and/or authors that I should have included.  The above list covers the best of the best, however, in my heart.  I am thankful to be literate and to have access to so many wonderful books – between Amazon, local bookstores, libraries, and my time studying literature in college, I am incredibly wealthy in this regard.

What books are you thankful for?

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Quotable Monday: Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates as a young woman

We don’t always get to live the life that we once dreamt that we would.  Sometimes this elicits extreme anger, denial, sadness… but it doesn’t always have to be so.

With this in mind, today’s short and to-the-point quote comes to us from one of my personal favorites, Joyce Carol Oates:

What I aspired to be and was not, comforts me.

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Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates

 

 

 

Title:  Zombie
Author:  Joyce Carol Oates
Length:  181
Copyright:  1995
Overall Impression:  Ehhh… 3 out of 5 stars
Joyce Carol Oates is an incredible author.  She’s prolific and her writing style is raw, sometimes gritty, always disturbing.  For all of these reasons, I adore her and count her among my all-time favorites.  With that said, I’ll always pick up one of her books if I’m out in a store, see them, and am in the need of a book to read and won’t think twice about it.  Eventually, I’d like to say that I’ve read all of her work, so I just grab what’s there and catches my eye at the time.  So, I’m not sure what it says about me that I recently saw Zombie at a Borders going out of business sale and purchased it based solely off this blurb:

He is the most believable and thoroughly terrifying sexual psychopath and killer ever to be brought to life in fiction, as Joyce Carol Oates achieves her boldest and most brilliant triumph yet-a dazzling work of art that extends the borders of the novel into the darkest heart of truth.

Oates outdoes herself in this book – I always expect her to make me feel a little uncomfortable and to force me to put myself in the shoes, into the heart and soul, of a character that is a little evil and/or a whole lot of dark.  The format of this novel draws you into the private thoughts of the main character – the pages are set up like a personal diary for his daily thoughts and plots for abduction and murder.  This format exemplifies one of my absolute favorite aspects of her writing – each novel, each short story, is entirely unique and individual.  She possesses a nonpareil ability to slip into the skin of her characters completely.  All of the words from the first sentence to the last are 100% that of the characters, right down to misspellings and, sometimes, grammatical errors.

As for the title – while I didn’t expect any zombies in the novel, the relationship to zombies was surprising to me, so perhaps it will be surprising to you if you choose to read this book for yourself, therefore I won’t get too into detail about that aspect of this work.  Hopefully it’s as surprising to you as it was to me, but the main character’s obsession with this specific idea will possibly make you never look at zombies the same way again.

In the end, I felt like I needed to go to Confession, which makes this novel both a triumph and something that I don’t feel like I would want to read again.  For these reasons, my “rating” is 3 out of 5 stars.
 Photo Source:  http://www.uqpu.net/zombieguide/

 

 

 

 

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