My Heart Laid Bare (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Joyce Carol Oates prefaces her novel with a quotation from Edgar Allan Poe:
If any ambitious man have a fancy to revolutionize, at one effort, the universal world of human thought, human opinion, and human sentiment, the opportunity is his own. . . . All that he has to do is write and publish a very little book. Its title should be simple—a few plain words—“My Heart Laid Bare.” But this little book must be true to its title. . . . No man could write it, even if he dared.
What Poe must have had in mind was something quite different from what Oates delivers. She has no intention of laying her own heart bare—at least in this novel. Her catchy (and somewhat misleading) title refers to a memoir her protagonist Abraham Licht intends to write someday but leaves unfinished at his death. Readers who expect to hear a famous woman author’s personal confession may feel confused when they find themselves involved with a complicated semihistorical, semi-Gothic, partially tongue-in-cheek story reminiscent of Oates’ Bellefleur (1980), A Bloodsmoor Romance (1982), and Mysteries of Winterthurn (1984). Oates called those popular books “parodistic,” explaining that “they are not exactly parodies, because they take the forms they imitate quite seriously.”
The Licht family home in Muirkirk in upstate New York is an abandoned church that Poe would have found charming. It will...
(The entire section is 1992 words.)
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