Gilbert Rogin Joyce Carol Oates - Essay

Joyce Carol Oates

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is fascinating, the risks Rogin takes in [What Happens Next?]: he has narrowed his focus upon a very few personalities and a very few ideas, he insists upon working down and through and ultimately inside his protagonist, who is a Stereotype locked in a series of boxes of Stereotypes (relationships with Father, with Wife, with Self, with the inevitable Alter-Egos, with the Insanity of Contemporary Life, etc.). Such a deliberate limiting of subject matter could have been disastrous, but Rogin succeeds wonderfully….

Because Rogin is also very funny his work is in danger of being underestimated—we do not really believe that one can speak truth with a smiling face, not really….

The work is sometimes aggravating, sometimes slowed down in a maddeningly literal way, as when Singer feels he must report to us the various good/bad features of his Florida trip. And perhaps it is too long…. But most of the time Rogin's writing is poised between the banal "outer" world we have seen before—too often before—and his own sharp, endlessly clever, endlessly questioning appreciation of it. (p. 143)

[The characters are always about to become stereotypes] and yet they resist categorization, just as Singer resists finally adding them up to anything, fixing them in place, declaring them known. They are given a kind of tentative form by Singer's speculative narrations about them, but the form is never permanent; they can easily be reimagined, glimpsed out a window doing some odd thing and then erased, and reimagined elsewhere….

Working with so much that is familiar, Rogin has accomplished a unique vision and, in what is only his second book, seems to have brought to near perfection his own style. Perhaps the answer to his question—What Happens Next?—will be, for Rogin, an exploration of another kind of fiction altogether. (p. 144)

Joyce Carol Oates, "Risk-Taking," in Partisan Review (copyright © 1973 by Partisan Review, Inc.), Vol. XL, No. 1, 1973, pp. 143-46.