Joyce Carol Oates Oates, Joyce Carol (Vol. 2)

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Oates, Joyce Carol (Vol. 2)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Oates, Joyce Carol 1938–

A National Book Award-winning novelist, Miss Oates is also a short story writer, critic, and poet. Her works include them, A Garden of Earthly Delights, and Wonderland. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Joyce Carol Oates is a strange pale flamingo of a woman with great jeweled eyes and a fate for literature. Word-mad, Irish-Catholic, working-class, she writes with the tip of an emotional tornado that has swept the critics into a limp pile of admiration….

No, her problem is not talent; it is temperament—the defect of her leading virtue. Miss Oates is an obsessive, and obsession is a jockey that runs a talent hard but only in one direction. Something unlived squats on her back: mad and hairy, red in tooth and claw. Her necessity is to obey her demon. But because her self is her subject, the world is distanced. In many of these stories the world is just a warehouse the writer borrows rooms or airports from, and people are puppets she costumes in her own compulsions. She tries to convince us that her demonic world is the usual world and that what happens there is happening here….

While I read, I am amazed; when I think about what I have read, I am bored. Everything this writer does has been done before—and done more powerfully—by Gogol, Melville, Ingmar Bergman. Don't let her fool you with stunt styles and timely touches. Keep your eye on her standard Victorian plots, observe the carefully prevented poetry of her prose. Joyce Carol Oates is an anachronism: the last of the 19th Century Gothic novelists, the fourth Brontë sister.

Maybe that's why I buy every book she writes.

Brad Darrach, "Consumed by a Piranha Complex," in Life (courtesy Life Magazine; © 1970), December 11, 1970.

Every one of these twenty stories [in The Wheel of Love, and Other Stories] is at the very least a respectable creation, and a surprising number deserve to be called accomplished in every sense of that word. There are a density and force in each of these compact works that come from a touch with words as sure as Richter's at the piano. No word is ever superfluous, as no image is either forced or flat. Form and content alike are constant in their intensity….

Often Miss Oates's perceptions are clinical in their thoroughness and accuracy, yet they are never without tenderness, no matter how unfashionable that quality may have become. Never does she permit herself, however, the vulgarity of sentimentality….

The reader of all these stories learns a good deal about what is the connection between person and person. The wheel of love does not stop turning: and everything before it, whether yielding or defiant, it runs over.

Charles Lam Markmann, "The Terror of Love," in Nation, December 14, 1970, pp. 636-37.

Joyce Carol Oates is, more than most women writers, entirely open to social turmoil, to social havoc and turbulence, to the frighteningly undirected and misapplied force of an American powerhouse like Detroit. It is rare to find a woman writer so externally unconcerned with form…. The sheer rich chaos of American life, to say nothing of its staggering armies of poor, desperate, out-raged, and by no means peaceful people, presses upon her; her fiction, Robert M. Adams has noticed, takes the form of "retrospective nightmare." What Elizabeth Dalton disapprovingly called "violence in the head" expresses, I suspect, Joyce Carol Oates' inability to blink social violence as the language in which a great many "lower class" Americans naturally deal with each other….

I would guess that Joyce Carol Oates' constant sense of Americans in collision, not to overlook characters who are obsessed without being able to talk freely, perhaps rubs the wrong way critics who like events to "build toward a climax, or accumulate tension and meaning." Oates is unlike many women writers in her feeling for the pressure, mass, density of violent American experience not known to the professional middle class….

Her … characters seem to move through a...

(The entire section is 4,127 words.)