The Unruly Genius of Joyce Carol Oates

Leo Robson at The New Yorker:

Oates’s friend the novelist John Gardner once suggested that she try writing a story “in which things go well, for a change.” That hasn’t happened yet. Her latest book, the enormous and frequently brilliant “Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.” (Ecco)—the forty-ninth novel she has published, if you exclude the ones she has written under pseudonyms—is a characteristic work. It begins with an act of police brutality, and proceeds to document the multifarious consequences for the victim’s wife and children: alcoholism, low-level criminality, marital breakdown, incipient nervous collapse. In a 1977 journal entry, Oates acknowledged that her work turns instinctively toward what she called “the central, centralizing act of violence that seems to symbolize something beyond itself.” Perhaps the most heavily ironic statement in her œuvre comes in her second novel, “A Garden of Earthly Delights” (1967), when a woman says, “Nobody killed nobody, this is the United States,” while the most characteristic piece of exposition may be found in “Little Bird of Heaven” (2009): “Daddy was bringing me home on that November evening not long before his death-by-firing-squad to a house from which he’d been banished by my mother.”

more here.

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