The Best
American Essays
Of the Century

Joyce Carol Oates
Robert Atwan, Editors

(Houghton Mifflin)
Part III

Back in the dark days of 1994, in the very first edition of RALPH, we reviewed an earlier novel by Joyce Carol Oates. Our reviewer said,

The poop pix sent along with You Must Remember This show Ms. Oates to be a lady with the clear and direct gaze of Tokyo Rose, the waspishness of Bonnie (as in Bonnie and Clyde), generally looking as warm and kissable as Rasputin's Uncle Igor.

The writing clearly demonstrates the concerns of this modern-day Lady Macbeth: in the first fifty pages we have three attempted suicides, two rapes, an extensive description of the structure and aroma of an outhouse, exact prose descriptions of Bergen-Belsen and Buchenwald concentration camps, and a Negro boy maybe ten or eleven ... run over by a coal truck ... blood spilling out of his mouth, ears, like you'd squeeze paint out of a tube.

Good God, Carol [he continued], don't you have some other obsessions with which to twiddle the hours away? It's like noodling about in the brain of the president of your local chapter of the Hell's Angels. Or better --- it's the night-to-night network television schedule put down on the printed page for those people who think they are too sophisticated to be watching the bloody reruns of "Miami Vice" or "Hawaii 5-0." It's no accident that Ms. Oates' favorite sport is boxing, which is, of course, no sport at all, but the chance to watch two poor bastards whaling the hell out of each other for a delusional title, which will make them punch-drunk, perhaps paralyzed, by age forty.

At the time, our editors thought all this a bit too much, but we were in a hurry to hit the streets so we let it ride.

Having followed her career in subsequent years, we may be a bit more persuaded of the truth of his words. Indeed, if there is some Lady Macbeth out there capable of burying the bodies of America's dark literary sleepers, we couldn't find any better candidate than the prolix and none too humble Joyce Carol Oates.

--- Lolita Lark


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