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this entry is not likely to be very interesting to you unless you are Joyce Carol Oates

December 20th, 2006 (01:10 am)

Quit playing games with my heart, Joyce Carol Oates, and stop jerking me around. Every time I think I'm through with you, you find some way to reel me back in.

In the beginning there was Black Water, and the Black Water was good. I was eager to be a fan of yours, Joyce Carol Oates, and read more books like that. So I tried We Were the Mulvaneys, and it bored me to tears, I don't care what Oprah said. But I wasn't willing to give up hope. I tried First Love. That didn't work either. Still I persisted. I kept plowing through, picking up books at used book stores for a dollar apiece. them. The Rise of Life on Earth. Unholy Loves. Nope. Not feeling it. In desperation, I turned to Foxfire. That too was boring. How the fuck do you manage to make a book about a subtextually lesbian girl gang - a book about a subtextually lesbian girl gang that got made into a movie starring Angelina Jolie - how do you make that boring? But you did it, Joyce Carol Oates. Damned if you didn't.

So I gave up. If I was in the mood for post-Victorian Gothic I turned to Flannery O'Connor; if I was in the mood for novels with dense, self-congratulatory titles I turned to JT Leroy.* I was living without you, Joyce. I was happy without you.

Then one day I happened upon Freaky Green Eyes. And the Freaky Green Eyes was good. Damned good, really. Not flawless, still possessed of some of your more notable and characteristic bizarre linguistic tics; but damn good. And I came back, cautiously. I thought, well, maybe it's just adult fiction that Joyce Carol Oates can't do. Maybe this YA thing is going to work out for her. And so I tried Big Mouth and Ugly Girl, and that was a little heavier on the linguistic tics and a little lighter on the awesome, but it was good. So I smiled a little, and I tried Sexy, and that was still heavier on the linguistic tics and still lighter on the awesome. It was okay. My smile was hardening into a grimace. But I stayed with it.

And then you published your grand YA disaster, that After the Wreck I Picked Up My Gigantic Royalty Check and Flew Off to the Bank or whatever the hell your coked-up brain decided to call it. And I threw up my hands. I said, Joyce, that's it. We're divorced. You've hurt me enough. I'm not coming back this time.

But. You tricked me, Joyce. You published a book. You published it under a pen name. I mean, you do that. You have more pen names than any other writer I've ever heard of. But this one, you published as Lauren Kelly. And I read the summary, and it looked good. And I read the first few pages, and it looked better. There were linguistic tics that were ringing a bell somewhere deep in the back of my mind, but I ignored it. Even the curiously pretentious syntax of the title - Take Me, Take Me Away with You - wasn't enough to clue me in. You hooked me, Joyce, you bitch. You seduced me with your captivating green cover and your pretty new pen name and your intelligent-thriller chops and your innocent cover blurbs from Elmore Leonard and other mystery writer people. And I bought your book. And I'm enjoying it.

And so the dance begins all over again.

This book better work out for us, Joyce. You better bring this one home. If you do, maybe we can be friends again. If you promise to quit publishing a book every six weeks, to start reading your drafts before you send them off to the publisher - edit them, make revisions, check for typos**, and oh yeah, figure out if the damn thing is worth publishing. Publish a book a year, Joyce, and make it a good one. If you do that, I might forgive you for all the hours of wasted time I have invested in your remainder-binned out-of-print career.


It's up to you, Joyce Carol Oates. This is in your hands.

Don't let me down.

*Which do you think is a more ridiculous title, the heart is deceitful above all things or Because It Is Bitter and Because It Is My Heart?
**Note to Joyce Carol Oates' copy editor: "Anomaly" is not spelled "anomoly". kthx.


Posted by: Andrew Ducker (andrewducker)
Posted at: December 20th, 2006 08:38 am (UTC)

Strangely, Ed loves Foxfire. Or at least he has fantastic memories of it, from when he was teenaged...

Posted by: I know you are but what am I? (spudzilla)
Posted at: December 20th, 2006 10:47 am (UTC)

Dude, I heart you.

Posted by: Kare Bear (luvs_chicago)
Posted at: December 20th, 2006 01:00 pm (UTC)
Don't throw garbage at me.

Thanks to Paperback swap, I have three or four of her books. I haven't read any of them yet...and I wonder how I ended up with them in the first place.

Posted by: Shanna (siobhankha)
Posted at: December 20th, 2006 01:43 pm (UTC)
Leroy Yawn

Maybe I will try a couple of the good ones you mentioned. Unfortunately, I started with We Were the Mulvaneys and I didn't understand how anyone had even gotten through the damn thing! SO BORING ZOMG TEH SUXORS

Posted by: ~Heather~ <>< (fairy_grrl)
Posted at: December 20th, 2006 02:01 pm (UTC)
Darcy critic

Blonde was also very good.

You know my feelings about her. I won't read Lauren Kelley. JCO has broken my heart too many times for me to even bother trying.

Unless you tell me she's written another Freaky Green Eyes. Then, the affair starts once again.

Posted by: Little Miss Crabbypants (next_bold_move)
Posted at: December 20th, 2006 05:49 pm (UTC)
bucky with book

Have you tried any of her short story collections?

Posted by: An Unreliable Narrator (thewriteratwork)
Posted at: December 20th, 2006 05:53 pm (UTC)

This was hilarious. I would love to see you write a series of open letters to authors. It would make me v v v happy. I've dipped into Oates a few times, but unlike you, I haven't found a great book to make me keep going back to her.

Posted by: Greetings Fellow Comstoks! (fengi)
Posted at: December 20th, 2006 06:25 pm (UTC)

I thought "Bitter" was great up until the uncessary and overwrought part 3. This is a problem with many of her books: strong ideas and starts, weak endings. She shares this flaw with Stephen King, but she's got him beat for output: 116 publications in 42 years.

That's one book every 19 weeks (or every 5 months), so you weren't far off in your estimate of 6 weeks. Though damn, who wouldn't like to get anything you wrote sold in bookstores whenever?

There's a lot of gems buried in that - I'd recommend the short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" which is amazing and was made into the utterly creepy Smooth Talk.

Foxfire may seem quiet compared to other rebel girl tales, but it came first so I cut it slack. I liked the restraint and was bored by the film which was like a slightly naughty after school special.

I do take issue with your reaction to Bitter's title, because I know the source:

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter-bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."
-- Stephen Crane

Which captures the best bits of that book, although in far fewer words.

Posted by: A Delicate Corpse Flower (peregrin8)
Posted at: December 21st, 2006 02:44 am (UTC)

Hey, thanks for posting the source poem. It doesn't make me want to attempt any more Oates, but it does make me pleased that I read the poem.

Posted by: Wired (wiredferret)
Posted at: December 21st, 2006 07:16 pm (UTC)

Yes, I recognized it too.

I like Stephen Crane, but there is really no denying that he is pretentious. It's partially the era he was writing in, but partly just him.

A man said to the universe:
"Sir I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."

Posted by: Brandoch Daha (ticktockman)
Posted at: December 21st, 2006 03:13 pm (UTC)

I'm sure she can't help it. Writers write. Maybe she would be happier if she could shed a little of the compulsion, and put some of her time into other things, I don't know.

If she can slice a little compulsive writing away, I would follow behind her and eat the peelings. There are books inside me, or at least vignettes, but I am a pathological procrastinator. What I would give for willpower and sticktoitiveness.

I've read "You Must Remember This" and some others. I'm looking at a list of her titles and I can't hook what I remember of the plots to the titles. Maybe these weren't all by her -- one was about a writer/researcher who hires an assistant, rejecting all the highly qualified academics and choosing a barely literate slattern who abuses and despises him. One was a collection of stories about academics, including poorly paid traveling festival guest lecturers, a dissertation reviewer who fell into despair and died under indistinguishable miscellaneous assorted pages plucked from all the manuscripts in his care, infighting and plagiarism accusations within a Department, seduction of a grad assistant, and more. One was the story of a woman hunting her daughter, how the daughter became a terrorist-bomber, how the mother ended up in a revolution-prone banana republic that changes hands among members of the ruling family. And then there was a long story (in the New Yorker?) about a boy who is used by his father to lure in homeless boys who are later found dead.

My point? Ummm... once I start reading something of hers, I keep reading it. Not everybody can hold onto me like that. And the titles don't work.


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