You Must Remember This

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Recognizing a sign from death, Enid Maria, the youngest of the four Stevick children, attempts suicide by swallowing a bottle of aspirin. She is saved by her sister Lizzie, but Enid’s act causes some of her family members to question their own lives and their relationship to her.

Unable to face the truth, Lyle and Hannah Stevick believe that Enid’s close call with death was a mistake. Thankful that their daughter is alive, they ask no further questions. Only Warren, Enid’s older brother, aware of lurking dangers, asks Enid why, hoping to bridge the gap between himself and the one person with whom he can communicate.

As the focus of this novel, Enid moves from being an innocent child tottering on the brink of death to a young woman about to fulfill the promise of youth. She leaves behind her an obsessive love affair with her Uncle Felix, around which the novel revolves, and steps forward into a world of music and creativity. Others in the family also begin to participate more fully in life. Warren, involved in a coalition opposed to the war effort, blocks the construction of an intercontinental missile base, and Lyle and Hannah clumsily reaffirm their love in their underground fallout shelter.

Joyce Carol Oates weaves an intricate tale of youthful dreams running counter to life’s realities in the unstable times before and after the Korean War. Using the Stevick family as a microcosm, Oates reveals in clinical detail the...

(The entire section is 595 words.)