Last week, we read Wild Nights: Stories about the Last Days of Poe, Dickinson, Twain, James, and Hemingway, by Joyce Carol Oates. One person loved it, a few of use liked it (including me) and others thought it was just too strange to finish. I merely liked it because I didn’t think it was her best work. I think she’s much better at novels that allow her to develop characters and storylines. Still, some of the stories were engaging. The one on Henry James was probably the best one. The one that imagined Emily Dickinson as replicant was also quite clever — an interesting comment on fame and its discontents. The one about Twain and his club of “Angelfish” — i.e. prepubescent little girls — was downright creepy. The one about Hemingway was quite moving and I was surprised I liked it since I don’t care for Hemingwary (then again, it’s Oates writing like Hemingway). So, while I wasn’t blown away by this, I think the concept of Oates attempting to write like great authors is worth checking out.
I don’t want to think about Mark Twain as a pedophile! He outlived I think all but one of his four children, which is just tragic.
That said, I *LOVE* JCO–I’m on the waiting list to read her new novel in two different library systems, but as you can imagine, here in Colorado the book is an especially hot property (since it seems to be based on the JonBenet Ramsey murder.) I end up taking at least one of her more recent novels on vacation with me every summer. I think it’s bascially feminist genre fiction, because most of her novels portray women as victims of men in various ways, and sometimes offer the satisfaction of fighting back successfully against the patriarchal powers-that-be. The one I read this summer was a really creepy one about a woman who successfully runs away from an abusive relationship and takes on another identity, but you don’t know until the end that she’s successful in eluding her crazed ex. (I know that’s very similar to a lot of her plots–I just can’t remember the name of the book, although I just read it earlier this month!)
Thanks for your review of Wild Nights–I may check it out, although I think I’ll skip the Mark Twain chapter.
Did you happen to read the Gravedigger’s Daughter? JCO has a way of bringing out the ugliness of life, spinning it, weaving it into something we can all relate to, but wish to shield our eyes from; but she forces us to look, to judge, to understand, and translate.
I will have to check this one out. You say it is not her best. Can you recommend another?
I haven’t read the Gravedigger’s Daughter — there are too many of her books to keep up with! My favorite is _Foxfire_ about a girl gang in Buffalo during the 1950s. My second favorite is _Blonde_, which is about Marilyn Monroe. _We Were the Mulvanneys_ is excellent as well.
Wild Nights is definitely worth reading. Saying it’s not her best is a relative term — she’s brilliant this book is somewhat less so. Some of the stories are great — e.g. the one about Henry James — others just don’t work as well (e.g. the Edgar Allen Poe one).