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Joyce Carol Oates....how good is she?

 
 
dlowan
 
Reply Tue 19 Oct, 2010 03:22 am
The ever artistically piquing Tsar Stepan made me think about the above-mentioned author, and I realised I had only ever read one of her books (Blonde...about which I recall nothing) and knew nothing about her except her ubiquitous name....oh, and she has an unimpressed but inspiring cat and a less inspiring husband (because he doesn't insist on sitting on her lap and purring.)

I can get some of her stuff on Kindle...but I'd love to know
a. why people like or do not like her works
b. how you assess her oeuvre,
c. which books are her best

Digressing is ok! Kind of.

Thank you!
 
tsarstepan
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Oct, 2010 04:36 am
@dlowan,
I'll just touch upon her ouevre briefly this morning and return a later when I'm slightly more awake and have some time to dedicate to this thread.

Her short stories are modern day works of Gothic fiction. I first read one of her stories, Haunted, in the oddly eccentric (defunct for more then a decade) science rag Omni Magazine in the late 80's. It's apocalyptic atmosphere seemed to take a bite out of me though nothing really happened and no context was given in the story other then a visit to the grocery store.

So when she published the collection titled Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque in 1994 I picked it up and devoured the entire book. Still one of my favorite collections of short stories.

From the New York Times Book Review:
Quote:
HAUNTED: Tales of the Grotesque By Joyce Carol Oates. William Abrahams/Plume, $10.95. The author is no stranger to the grotesque and here brings together 16 such tales. She retells Henry James's "Turn of the Screw" from the ghosts' perspective and wheels through an A.&P. where something is very wrong. "Ms. Oates gleefully entwines the horrific and the homespun, more often than not eliciting goose bumps and a nervous laugh," Michael Upchurch said here last year.

http://www.nytimes.com/1995/02/19/books/new-noteworthy-paperbacks-491995.html?pagewanted=2
0 Replies
 
plainoldme
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Oct, 2010 05:37 am
Ah, Joyce Oates, as she was known during her Detroit/Windsor days, by people who disliked her (and they were legion) and who refused to make her a "three name lady author."

Joyce taught at the University of Detroit, a small Jesuit university in the Northwest section of Detroit, during the 60s. At that time, the section of Detroit was home to the Irish Catholic politicians who dominated civic life in the city. Wealthy Jews also lived there, but their bailiwick was law and finance. U of D was a school sliding from marginal respectability into mediocrity due in part to having to cut its sports program not long after Oates came to teach there. The Uni had a law school and a dental school but the latter was under a cloud and there was some talk of the state seizing the school and turning it over to Wayne State University, a large state school located in the city center.

A close friend of mine was one of her students during her time at U-D. They hated each other. He became a legend for "driving" his Harley around her classroom.

She left U-D for the University of Windsor, Ontario, directly across the Detroit River. At the time, the sneer in Detroit was that she made the move to protect her husband from the draft but I suspect that he was a tad old to have been drafted.

After graduating from college, I went immediately to graduate school at Wayne State where I took several creative writing classes. I made the mistake of taking one from the university's resident psychotic, despite having been warned by my friends to never take a class with her. She, too, spoke of Oates with disdain, saying that should anyone meet Oates at a cocktail party to watch what we might say to her as Oates is "a witch" who puts real people into her stories.

I tried to read one of her novels, Do With Me What You Will. I also picked up . . . and quickly put down . . . a collection of her short stories. I was totally turned off by a line, describing the view from an automobile window of, "white dots grazing that may have been sheep." Really? If the viewer can not tell the 'dots' are sheep, how does the viewer know that the 'dots' are grazing?
Setanta
 
  2  
Reply Tue 19 Oct, 2010 05:45 am
She has been sufficiently well respected that she is a standard of university literature courses in the United States. I can take her or leave her--but there should be no doubt about her literary skills. I would rate her an acquired taste.
aidan
 
  2  
Reply Tue 19 Oct, 2010 05:48 am
@plainoldme,
Quote:

I was totally turned off by a line, describing the view from an automobile window of, "white dots grazing that may have been sheep." Really? If the viewer can not tell the 'dots' are sheep, how does the viewer know that the 'dots' are grazing?
they might have been goats Laughing Laughing Laughing.
I once mistook goats for sheep from a distance. A friend of mine once mistook cows for horses.
And one time I mistook a moose for a horse and thought to myself - 'Why don't they have a fence around that pasture - their horse is running right for the road.
I swerved at the last minute and missed it.



But anyway about Joyce Carole Oates: I find her writing and subject matter either intensely interesting or totally inane and irritating.
I think I like the idea of some of her plots, settings and characterizations and find them more interesting and promising than their actual manifestation.

They all sort of blend together in my head - I did read The Tattooed Girl all the way through because the two characters were so different and I had to find out what happened between them. The last one I read was The Falls - and that was interesting because it took place during the whole Love Canal era in that area and I found that part of it sort of compelling reading.
I remember reading We Were the Mulvaneys in its entirety and the one about a woman and her mother who died...but again...it's just because the plots are somewhat psychologically dense and interesting that I persevere- it's not that I particularly care for her writing.

She gets a little too gothic and fantastical for my taste- I can almost immediately tell if I will be able to read one of her books or not within the first three or four pages. I'm not at all into fantasy or the super natural.

So she's someone I will always check out of the library if she has a new one - but I probably don't end up reading her stuff more often than I do.
plainoldme
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Oct, 2010 05:50 am
@aidan,
That's funny! They may have been goats! Then, again, they may have been pale rocks!
0 Replies
 
Roberta
 
  3  
Reply Tue 19 Oct, 2010 05:53 am
I read a couple of her early novels (Them, Expensive People). I thought they were above average. However, she is enormously prolific, and her style and work got old (to me) fast.
farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Oct, 2010 05:58 am
@Roberta,
Yeh, I agree with Roberta. I dont like her narrative style after about 2 books (I read Them and Bellefleur) She writes like a madman Ive heard. Ive seen her several times ,in Princetoon, she was a resident scholar in this decade. I hear she writes in pen and ink. I think that is cool since the pen lag time allows ones brain to keep up with ones thoughts.
0 Replies
 
djjd62
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Oct, 2010 06:07 am
i must have read the story tsar is talking about, but don't remember it it

the main thing i know about JCO, she's not Pearl S Buck, although as a kid i frequently confused the two, and really only figured it out a few years back when i saw she had a new book out and there was an interview with the author, i thought, wait, wouldn't she be about a hundred and fifty years old now
tsarstepan
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Oct, 2010 06:07 am
@Roberta,
Expensive People is my favorite Oates novels. I would like in fact to see it adapted to film.

I tried to read her Oprah chosen We were the Mulvaneys. Twasn't bad but twasn't good. Stopped reading after a hundred pages when I accidentally stumbled onto the major plot twist someone wrote in a book review.
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Oct, 2010 07:49 am
@Roberta,
Yes, that's about my take too.

I can't remember how many I've read. I started off saying "hey not bad," and then by the fourth or fifth had enough pretty much.

Don't hate her, don't love her. I don't think I'd recommend her but there are so many books that some might be worth reading.
0 Replies
 
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Oct, 2010 05:10 pm
@djjd62,
djjd62 wrote:

i must have read the story tsar is talking about, but don't remember it it

the main thing i know about JCO, she's not Pearl S Buck, although as a kid i frequently confused the two, and really only figured it out a few years back when i saw she had a new book out and there was an interview with the author, i thought, wait, wouldn't she be about a hundred and fifty years old now


Are you saying her writing is like Pearl's?
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Oct, 2010 05:11 pm
@Setanta,
Setanta wrote:

She has been sufficiently well respected that she is a standard of university literature courses in the United States. I can take her or leave her--but there should be no doubt about her literary skills. I would rate her an acquired taste.



Worth acquiring?
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Oct, 2010 05:13 pm
Thanks all, sounds like I won't be rushing out to read her.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Oct, 2010 04:37 am
@dlowan,
Personally, i don't think so. But i cannot speak for your tastes.
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Oct, 2010 05:24 am
@Setanta,
No. But I'll likely download something from Kindler soon!

I am still waiting for you to correct me on my Afghanistan talks thread re how many years imperialist powers have been messing with Afghanistan!

I said a couple of centuries, but I read a while back about millenia.
djjd62
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Oct, 2010 06:11 am
@dlowan,
no, i thought she was Buck, i'd hear her name and immediately think Buck, even though, as i said, i must have read the story tsar was talking about, i read nearly every copy of the magazine it was published in cover to cover, so when a new novel a few years back by JCO was announced and heard about an interview with the author, i was dumbfounded that she could still be alive, for some reason in my pea brain they were the same person, maybe it's the fact that they are both 3 name/initial and female, i don't know

i've never read Buck or Oates (discounting perhaps the short story already mentioned)

looking at wiki, it appears that Oates moved to Detroit the year i was born, and Windsor when i was about 6 and left for Princeton when i was about 16, so for a third of my life she's lived within 2 hours of me, and i assumed, up until hearing of said book in about 2007, she'd been dead about 40 years or so
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Oct, 2010 07:40 am
@dlowan,
"The Great Game" as it was known to the English, has only gone on for less than two centuries. Prior to that the only serious invasions of the region were by the Greco-Macedonians under Alexander, and the Mongols. The Mongols sacked the few real cities there at the time (almost 800 years ago), but avoided the Hindu Kush, which is where everyone else had their troubles.

Alexander is the only foreign invader who ever impressed those people. They still remember "Sikander" with awe. They are the only people who ever seriously gave him trouble, too.
0 Replies
 
Miller
 
  2  
Reply Wed 20 Oct, 2010 08:59 am
I own and have read many of Joyce's books. When I first started reading her stories, I found them depressingly true about the evil that lurks within the hearts and souls of mankind.

Now, several years down the road, I still find the books very sad and can't help but wonder if Ms Oates has mental health issues. Her first husband died not too long ago, and I suspect his illness may have played a role in deciding the mood of many of her stories.

Since his death , she's re-married to a Professor of neurobiology. While this second marriage may have brought her happiness, I still find her writing very sad and at times even sickening.

I still can't figure out how she can produce so many publications. Is this a sign of talent (or a sign of mental illness of some sort )?
Pemerson
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Oct, 2010 04:15 pm
@Miller,
Miller wrote:

I own and have read many of Joyce's books. When I first started reading her stories, I found them depressingly true about the evil that lurks within the hearts and souls of mankind.


Couldn't have said it better. I read When we were the Mulvaneys and found it exhausting, but stuck it out to the really not-so-bitter end. Have attempted to read a couple others but...too heavy, sad, depressing.

I recall discussing this writer some years ago on A2K. Pictures posted of her were very beautiful.
 

 
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