Critical Evaluation

Joyce Carol Oates is a prolific writer, publishing more than fifty novels as well as dozens of short stories, poems, dramatic works, essays, and books for children and young adults. She has won numerous awards for her novels and short stories, including a National Book Award for them, as well as awards for lifetime achievement, such as the National Arts Club Medal of Honor in Literature, the Humanist of the Year Award, the Chicago Tribune Literary Prize for Lifetime Achievement, the Fairfax Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Literary Arts, the Carl Sandburg Literary Award for Lifetime Achievement, the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Lifetime Achievement in American Literature, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Short Story. Oates also has received seven honorary doctorates. She is a Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Princeton University, where she began teaching in 1978.

In them, Oates presents the story of the Wendalls, the prototypical dysfunctional family living in Detroit. Loretta, the mother, is trying to raise her children and eke out a living when she does not have a man to support her, and her children—Jules, Maureen, and Betty—get themselves into some compromising situations but manage to emerge from these situations undefeated, although not unscathed.

Although narrated in the third person, the novel focuses on the perspectives of Jules and Maureen as they navigate the development of their identities and the discovery that they are different from others. Through following Jules on his wanderings around town and his job changes after he drops out of school, readers learn that he is a romantic, always drawn to young women who seem somewhat inaccessible to him, yet also a cynic in his sometimes settling for women and jobs that are good enough for the time being. Maureen shares some of her older brother’s idealism in her love of books and libraries, especially British novels,...

(The entire section is 803 words.)