When The Wheel of Love was published in 1970, Joyce Carol Oates was already an established writer of fiction and poetry. What was still open to debate was whether she was a serious ‘‘literary’’ writer or just a popular one. As she has often pointed out in interviews, this argument is based on the sexist premise that such a prolific female writer must have aspired to popularity instead of art. The stories in Wheel of Love continued to divide critical opinion, but in the decades since, several of them, including ‘‘How I Contemplated,’’ have taken their place among the best of American short fiction.
Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Richard Gilman noted that in some of the stories Oates created ‘‘a verbal excitement, a sense of language used not for the expression of previously attained insights or perceptions but for new imaginative reality.’’ Reviewer James A. Avant of the Library Journal singled out ‘‘How I Contemplated’’ as one of the stories that demonstrated Oates’s ‘‘striking expansions of the limits of fiction.’’ Avant also goes on to concede that ‘‘One must really go ahead and call her, at the outrageous age of 32, a great writer.’’ On the other hand, Gilman also concludes that Oates’s stories are full of ‘‘a great deal of ‘expressive’ rumination about feeling [which] is accompanied by very little feeling itself.’’ Similarly, critic R. E. Long wrote...
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