Oates has said that the “serious writer, after all, bears witness,” and the suffering and frustration of her individual characters seem to be symbolic of American society as a whole, a society with nothing left to worship, full of empty words and slogans, with popular music that drones endlessly in the background. Yet while Oates’s realistic portrayal of society in these stories is not uplifting, she has said that “no writer is a pessimist; the very act of writing is an optimistic act. I think of it primarily as a gesture of sympathy.”
Indeed, there is something almost loving in Oates’s nearly obsessive attention to detail in everyday life. In her hands, the careful description of an ordinary room or a street can sound reverent. Their compressed nature and highly charged emotional content, along with the attention to syntax, make the stories in The Wheel of Love seem almost like prose poems. Some stories clearly reach an allegorical level that is most apparent in the “demon lover,” Arnold Friend, who arrives unbidden to Connie in “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” Another demon lover seems to materialize in “Demons,” romancing Eileen and then killing her father and his dog. In each case, the demon lover is a twisted form of wish fulfillment: He does nothing that Connie and Eileen have not already imagined, however innocently. In “Bodies,” a tomb monument of a man receiving his fate from the angel of death...
(The entire section is 421 words.)