Oates, Joyce Carol 1938–
Oates is an American novelist, short story writer, poet, playwright, critic, and editor now living in Canada. She is an extremely prolific writer, contributing both fiction and nonfiction in books as well as popular and scholarly journals. Her short stories reveal the full range of her artistry, for in that genre Oates seems to be in the greatest control of her material. Her fictional world is violent and tragic, her characters, disturbed and unhappy, are often victims of their social milieu and emotional weaknesses. Oates was the recipient of the National Book Award in 1970 for them and has twice received the O. Henry award. (See also CLC, Vol. 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)
I have been an early fancier of Joyce Carol Oates's fiction, which struck me as that always admirable thing: writing possessed of feminine sensitivity that in no way harps on such sensitivity but simply and hardheadedly puts it to work. And surrounds it with other good, solid virtues, neither feminine nor unfeminine, such as looking at the world steadily and long, and blinking only when absolutely necessary. (p. 284)
[It] is with mixed pleasure and apprehension that I watch Miss Oates wildly sowing her gifts in all directions: essays, reviews, poetry, plays, film criticism, and probably a few other genres that slipped by me on the pages of every known and several unknown magazines. It is so much the variousness as the sheer bulk of these outpourings that worries me: I respect a polymath but not a polygrapher. And I wonder whether this material, as uneven as a fever chart in quality, is the product of a steamily teaming brain, or of a bureau full of assorted literary productions that has dogged Miss Oates since college and has finally been unleashed on the world. (pp. 284-85)
[Sunday Dinner] is an attempt at an absurdist play, without, I am afraid, the grim lucidity that lurks at the core of good theater of the absurd…. The creepy Midwestern family that returns from a visit to Mother's grave and settles down to the usual gripes, bickerings and pontifications to be consumed with the Sunday dinner, is a bunch of tolerable Oatesian grotesques, with one foot in Babbittry, the other in Grant-Woodsy gothic. But when a possibly blind census taker, who is possibly not a census taker and possibly the long-absconded Father, arrives, joins in the dinner, asks bizarre questions and obtains even queerer answers—not to mention confessions of sins as inscrutably symbolic as they are extravagantly purple, and the whole thing erupts into violence…. I tell you, I don't know what I'm telling you, or what I have been told.
Miss Oates provides some funny and well-written lines, but they prove merely that she knows about words, not necessarily about theater. (p. 285)
John Simon, "'Sunday Dinner'" (1970), in his Uneasy Stages: A Chronicle of the New York Theater, 1963–1973 (copyright © 1975 by John Simon; reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.), Random House, 1976, pp. 284-85.
Sue Simpson Park
The title [of "How I Contemplated the World from the Detroit House of Correction and Began My Life over Again"], with its seventeen words, suggests a departure from the conventional practice of relatively short titles. The headnote for the story provides a further hint as to the experimental quality of what is to follow: "Notes for an essay for an English class at Baldwin Country Day School; poking around in debris; disgust and curiosity; a revelation of the meaning of life; a happy ending…." A prefiguration of the contrapuntal nature of the story is evident in these preliminaries: on the one hand, the abstractions of contemplation, revelation, the meaning of life, beginning life over again; on the other, the tangibility of the Detroit House of Correction and an English class at Baldwin Country Day School. (pp. 213-14)
The "notes for an essay" are presented in twelve divisions marked with Roman numerals. At first glance, one surmises from the form...
(The entire section is 4,851 words.)