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TheJournalofJoyceCarolOat48874_fI’ve been reading a little of the Journal of Joyce Carol Oates each morning over breakfast before heading out to work (which is probably why it’s taken me so long to finish it….) but it has been a very rewarding experience getting inside the mind of one of my absolutely favourite authors. Reading journals and letters certainly satisfies something deeply inquisitive in my nature, and although I know published works like this do leave a lot of stuff out, I am still learning more than I would otherwise about someone I admire hugely. I still don’t know how she finds the time to teach, write so prolifically and have what seems to be a contented life, but I’m very, very glad that she does.

I’ve also started book buying again despite my resolution in January to cut back. I suppose I’m not buying quite as many as I used to, but given how many books there are in this house that I haven’t got round to reading then any new purchases are probably a bad idea. Anyway, the newest additions are:

Music for Torchingby AM Homes – an incendiary novel, apparently; read some of her other stuff an found it challenging and interesting so thought I would give this one a go;

Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker – the beginnings of WWII, the end of civilization, unusual structure for a non-fiction work about the war;

Dear Husband by Joyce Carol Oates – a new collection of short stories.

I’ve also been inspired by reading the Journal to buy a couple more Joyce Carol Oates to add to the ever-growing pile….

shots-logo_180I’m going to have a stab at something I find very difficult, namely trying to talk about a Joyce Carol Oates short story in a meaningful way. I often find her short stories elusive; they have an impact on me but I’m not always clear why (if that makes sense).

This story is set in the 1960s (I think it was written in the late 60s) and is about Connie, a fifteen year old girl who has a relatively normal life; she gets on OK with her parents and sister but there are the usual tensions that you get within families. She isn’t always truthful – she tells her parents she’s going to the cinema  with her friend but they usually split up and hang around with boys.

One night she catches the eye of a particular boy, Arnold Friend, who comes to her house with one of his friends when he knows she is home alone. Connie realises that both of the boys are a lot older than she thought but she still doesn’t sense the danger…

Although the ending is fairly open, it’s clear what will happen to Connie, especially as I believe the character of Arnold Friend is based on a real person. I found the ideas behind the story quite disturbing, and there is a real sense of menace. I’m sure I haven’t done it justice, but since reading it at the weekend I find myself thinking back to it a lot.

Where to start with this one? A controversial title (I received some askance looks when reading this on my daily commute) perhaps, but as with all works by Joyce Carol Oates carefully chosen, not for shock value but to reflect what the nub of the story really is.

Rape is about Teena Maguire, a single mother, and her daughter Bethie, 12 years old, and the consequences of their short-cut through a local park late at night after a Fourth of July party. Teena is raped by a number of men who are high on drugs and alcohol, beaten and left for dead; Bethie is beaten but escapes, though she can hear from her hiding place what is happening to her mother.

The men’s families hire a lawyer who is able to get their charges reduced to assault by claiming that there was consent and the beating and so on must have been carried out by a different group of men who came along later; after all, no-one actually witnessed the rape. Some of the most difficult parts of the story are here, where the justice system seems to fail Teena and Bethie; the author has made it clear from the start that these men are guilty, there is no room for ambiguity or doubt, but Teena’s poor choice that night, her dress and her family circumstances are used against her. But there is one man who is determined to see justice done, and the latter part of the novella concentrates on how he achieves that; whether his actions are right or wrong is left to the reader to decide.

This is an incredibly powerful story, but not to everyone’s taste; I’m sure many will find it a difficult read. I have said elsewhere that I admire Joyce Carol Oates greatly, and a number of her novels deal with the undercurrent of violence in modern society and how it often erupts into the lives of otherwise ordinary families, and this is no exception. The events stay with Bethie into her adult life.

This is my fifth read for the Novella Challenge.

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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October 2020