SOURLAND by Joyce Carol Oates

Book Quote:

“It was a bitch. The summer was jinxed. Her father died on her birthday which was July 1. Then, things got worse.” (Bitch)

Book Review:

Review by Maggie Hill  (OCT 14, 2010)

Here’s how I ended up reading one of these stories: Standing up – stepping away from it, yelling (sort of) at JCO for being a freak, wishing I was half as good a freak, sputtering inside my head, “Oh yes, this must be exactly what a four-year-old child feels/thinks/is afraid of!” Then, just, oh. She did not. She did that in the end? No way. She did do that. If she was here right now, I’d … let her tell me a thing or two.

Is there anyone literate in the United States of America who has not read a little Joyce Carol Oates? She’s a Master. She’s living. Read her. End of report.

In Sourland, the latest collection of stories by this venerable writer, Oates has fully slipped into her imagination’s dark night of the soul. This is a writer who nails down the floorboards, inside the cloud, of the dream/nightmare she creates. She’s like James Cagney, smashing a piece of grapefruit in our faces as she makes us know what she’s talking about. I wonder, does her wisdom, her analogies, her knowing – thrillingly accurate, eerie, sublime – arrive naturally in her head?

“Nothing is more evident to a child of even ordinary curiosity and canniness than a family secret…” (The Story of a Stabbing)

“His mood was mercurial – as if he’d been hurt, in the midst of having been roused to indignation. (Pumpkin-Head)

“For the world is “pitiless” to aging women, even former Vogue models. (Bonobo Momma)

“When you die every fact of your body can be exposed.” (Bounty Hunter)

And, is there anyone who consistently conveys a character’s particularity in less than 20 words?

“A coarse sort of angel….with stubby nicotine-stained fingers and a smile just this side of insolent.” (Uranus)

“The cry that came from me was brute, animal. I had never heard such a cry before and would not have believed that it had issued from me.” (The Beating)

“Sonny’s lips parted in a slow smile that seemed about to reverse itself at any moment.” (Honor Code)

Joyce Carol Oates doesn’t sneak up on you in the middle of a story, then startle you with a loud, Boo! No, she looks right at you, says, “You comin’, or what?” as she stands, alone, looking out into the void. What she sees, she shares with you. But she’s not going to hold your hand. You knew something awe-ful might happen, that’s why you’re here. Oates takes a simple and generic phrase like, “…the party was in full swing…” and uses it to send us, sea-sick, into the story “Uranus.” I’m not even going to hint at what “Donor Organs” is about; figure it out. “Pumpkin-Head” is a goofy title for a story that says, arguably, more about education, immigration, widowhood, violence, dislocation, and powerlessness than War and Peace – in 21 pages. In other words, every story in this collection – are they collections merely because they’re set together under one binding? – lures you into a complex, rich, lots-of-ideas-going-on co-habitation with infinite suspense.

I love Joyce Carol Oates. But, be warned. Every one of these stories is dangerous. Don’t operate heavy machinery while reading them.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 21 readers
PUBLISHER: Ecco (September 14, 2010)
REVIEWER: Maggie Hill
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Joyce Carol Oates
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read reviews of more Joyce Carol Oates books:




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October 14, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Short Stories, y Award Winning Author

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