Saturday, March 19, 2005

Joyce Carol Oates

Although D'Amour Road is about a missing woman, at heart it is simply a story, which I hope that you will enjoy as much as I enjoy reading good fiction. I'm addicted to reading and usually devour about 50 books a year. I listen to many of these on CD but my favorite way to read is the old-fashioned way -- in print.

If I were stuck on a desert island and could only bring five books with me, one of them would be by Joyce Carol Oates. My ex-boyfriend introduced me to Oates back in 1979. At that time, I read her magnificent tale about migrant farm workers called A Garden of Earthly Delights. It was every bit as good as The Grapes of Wrath. From Wonderland to What I Lived For to Blonde to We Were the Mulvaneys, Oates never ceases to amaze me with the depth and complexity of her characterizations and plots. She is a brilliant and versatile writer with an astonishing ability to bring unique characters to life -- and frequently to death.

Currently, I am reading The Falls. Whenever I take one of Oates' books out of the library, I say to myself "Oh, no!" when I see how long it is because I'm not the fastest reader in the world. However, invariably, I am drawn into her world and am loath to finish her novels. The Falls combines history, geography, politics and the socially taboo topic of suicide along with a marvelous depiction of the way in which families hold us together, or tear us apart. She explores the concept of fatalism, or history repeating itself when people consider themselves to be doomed to follow a certain path.

Oates tackles the tragic beginning of Love Canal and the irresponsibility of the massive chemical plants, as well as the magical power that Niagara Falls exerts over tourists and residents alike. Niagara Falls beckons, seduces, taunts, exhilarates, and terrifies. It is a character all of its own, always rolling and rushing along in the background of the story of the cursed Burnaby family.

If you have not yet discovered Joyce Carol Oates, I would highly recommend this prolific, multitalented Professor of Humanities at Princeton. The main criticism that I have about this book is that the writing was quite sloppy at times. No one knows grammar, style and punctuation better than Oates, but she deliberately breaks the standard rules all the time. Many of her novels contain incredibly long run-on sentences or even run-on paragraphs! I think that she wants to create a breathless, stream of consciousness style, but she doesn't always succeed. In The Falls, the structure of some of her sentences is atrocious; that makes certain passages dense and difficult to read.

Secondly, although I'm drawn to drama and love bleak stories, I found this book slightly more depressing than some of her other works. I'm not exactly sure why. Perhaps it had to do with the constant repetition of the death theme, and one too many doomed relationships.

Since I'm often reading books that I don't like for my book club, I'm always thrilled to be able to close my door, and snuggle up with a great book of my own choosing.

Sigrid Macdonald

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