How to describe my feelings for Joyce Carol Oates? Two long bookshelves in my study are filled with her work and I always need to find new space for her writing. She’s a notoriously prolific author who produces writing in every conceivable genre and most of it is of an astounding quality. I have such a high respect for her writing and subject matter that I feel an affinity for this author more than any other. She writes sympathetically about a broad spectrum of characters and creates stories which engage the imagination while challenging my assumptions about the world. Who else would be daring enough to write a whole sequence of novels which use popular genre forms to create new kinds of stories about America or write a terrifying novella from the perspective of a Jeffrey Dahmer-like serial killer (ZOMBIE) or write a story set in the future where a couple purchase a computerised mannequin of Emily Dickinson (EDickinsonRepliLuxe)? It's easy to shake your head at such productivity and claim Oates must be a robot herself, but I think she simply demonstrates more than any writer I can think of a bountiful artistic passion and dedication. Oates is a supreme genius. Her output and commitment deserve a tremendous amount of respect. Of course, I have little idea what the actual woman is like although I’ve corresponded with her several times and met her on a few occasions. Oates herself has written about the distinction between the writer JCO and her essential ‘self.’ As in life and our social interactions, in writing we’re always presenting a version of ourselves whether conscious or not, trying to approximate the closest possible meaning for our thoughts and feelings through the vehicle of language. Nowhere is this more clear than in the imaginative space of fiction. For her perseverance in realizing her vision and her commitment to ideas, Oates is a role model and an icon.
Where some people feel she writes too much I eagerly read her new work often wishing more were published. Her Journals (1973-1982) are a masterwork which I’ve reread many times and I believe her books BLONDE, WONDERLAND, THE GRAVEDIGGER’S DAUGHTER and HIGH LONESOME (for which this blog is named) are amongst the greatest books produced in the last century. When I did my Masters degree I read MYSTERIES OF WINTERTHURN and I was enthralled by it. The style of her writing and the experimental way she reinvents the detective story while raising philosophical problems floored me. From that point forward I eagerly read through most of her back catalogue and many new books she’s published since then. The joy of loving an author so prolific is that there is always so much more to discover.
Just listen to some interviews with her and you’ll hear how intelligently she approaches the craft of writing. There’s a great interview with Oates conducted by the acerbic and sensitive reader Michael Silverblatt on KCRW’s bookworm here:
Silverblatt has interviewed her many times over the years and they are well worth a listen.
Click here to read my reviews of Oates' most recent publications.
Do you have a favourite book by Oates? Want to discuss her writing? Please comment below or get in touch.
I feel enormously privileged that Joyce herself enjoys my book reviews and blog:
and on this blog's 2nd birthday...