I am a quarter-century behind when it comes to my Joyce Carol Oates reading, but, really, that’s OK: 1989’s “American Appetites” is a gripping and nuanced psychological study of an upper-middle class marriage gone badly awry. Murder? Accident? A trial. And many tangled relationships and lies as truth and truth as lies. I picked up the trade paperback at Brookline Booksmith because I am an Oates fan and was in an Oates-ian mood, knowing Oates had a new one on the way, “Lovely, Dark, Deep,” That book was not yet out when I was browsing – it is now – so that’s what led me to her section and “American Appetites.” No regrets at all, and I rather like that it being set in the time period written there are no cell phone or computer interruptions going on. As to “Lovely, Dark, Deep” it’s a collection of 13 stories – Oates excels in this form too – and she’s already garnered a heap of heat for her depiction of Robert Frost in one of them, http://harpers.org/archive/2013/11/lovely-dark-deep/ published in Harper’s. Reaction shot: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/115385/joyce-carol-oates-robert-frost-story-harpers-sparks-debate. It all raises question about what’s fair game in fiction – defined as: not fact – when some of the characters are real and it plays off some known (and obviously some made-up) situations. Oates does not avoid controversy. I’m remembering back to “Rape: A Love Story,” about a gang rape and its aftermath.
And the one I read most recently (prior to “American Appetites”) was “Daddy Love,” an incredibly powerful burrowing into a very dark world – a man who sequentially abducts young boys for his sexual/power needs, puts them in confining boxes to start with, and over time forces a bond with them, raises them, punishes them, rewards them, and then discards (read: kills) them when they’re too old. We stay with it because of the one main boy this story follows – the rest of the tawdry past we learn along the way – and our desire to know if/how he escapes his certain fate. This was one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read, reminding me of Stephen King’s “Gerald’s Game.”
Just to add another piece to the puzzle, Oates – who has won numerous awards – writes children’s books and YA novels, too. Short stories, novels, essay, memoirs. She’s 76 and I don’t know if there’s a more prolific or compelling author out there. I can barely imagine what goes on inside her head when she sits down to write – IN LONGHAND. Not even a typewriter for her to say nothing of word.docs. Oates reads and talks at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, sponsored by Brookline Booksmith, Thursday Sept. 11 at 6 p.m.
At the Coolidge Corner Theater. Tickets: $5. www.brooklinebooksmith.com 617-566-6660
290 Harvard St., Brookline