WHAT I LIVED FOR is a gripping dissection of contemporary American politics and mores that reveals, among other lessons, how tight the hold the past has on the present, and how difficult it is for anyone— an individual or a city—to escape it. Corky Corcoran appears, on most surfaces, to be the American success story. A fourth generation Irish American, Corky has become a millionaire in various business ventures, a city councilman, and a friend of some of the most powerful people in the city. Yet appearances in Oates can be deceiving, and just beneath the surface of Corky, as of his city, are some terribly corrosive forces at work. Those forces not only have killed a young woman Corky knows but also, in the end, will destroy Corky’s own life.
Joyce Carol Oates has written yet another dissection of the contemporary American political scene. The setting is upstate New York (in a city like Buffalo), but it could be anywhere in urban America where the political machine has control. The Irish-Catholic politics of Union City are as corrupt as they can be. Through Oates’s close inspection of the life and thoughts of one of the city’s leaders, readers become aware of why this is so.
Corky is a triumphant fictional character. An active alcoholic, a man who cannot maintain a relationship with a woman (they are always at fault), he is a George F. Babbitt for the 1990’s. Corky Corcoran should remind readers not only of Sinclair Lewis’ BABBITT...
(The entire section is 416 words.)