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Monday, 6 December 2010

Book notes No. 38 : A Fair Maiden, Joyce Carol Oates

Above freezing. Grey and snowing. Here in Carmine Superiore, it can't decide whether to settle or not. At lake-level it's raining.

I seem to have known the name Joyce Carol Oates forever, but I think this novel is the first of hers I've read, picked up in a delay-struck airport lounge in a 4 for 3 pile. And what a revelation. 

Katya Spivak. Fifteen. Uneducated. Working class. Desperate for attention.

Marcus Kidder. Sixty-something. Trust-fund child. Sophisticated. Searching for... ?

And that question mark forms the backbone of this suspense-filled, acutely-observed, psychologically wrenching novel. What does Marcus Kidder want from Katya Spivak? And what, for that matter, does Katya Spivak want from Marcus Kidder? 

The story is set on the New Jersey shore, an area I know particularly well, and I instantly recognised the two worlds Oates describes: the blue-collar families without jobs, without books, without any star to live by but some misguided televised idea of the American dream, which seems to consist of the freedom to not-work but get wasted instead; and the rich and elegant, hiding in their compound-gardens, behind their high hedges, giving their names to libraries, and with the leisure to indulge. 

Oates writes here of the coming-of-age of a working class girl. Ignored by her siblings. Blackmailed and lied to by her mother. Treated coldly by her terrified-to-lose-it-all nouveau-riche summer-job employers. Made to feel she is something by her new friend. But what that something is, she cannot tell. A commodity to be bought? A child to be coerced? Or a 'real' person with valid feelings, thoughts, emotions, to be heard, to be valued, even loved? 

The Daily Mail called this book "A delightfully chilling and playful novella from a literary genius", and I'd second that. But it's more. It's also a minutely accurate vision of some of the terrors and uncertainties of growing up female in working class America. 

And my question is: why hasn't anybody yet given this woman the Nobel?    


6 comments:

Vanessa. said...

They say she churns out novels so fast that there can't be any big enough ideas in them...

ladyfi said...

I've heard of Oates, of course, but never read her. Must put her on my Wish List immediately!

Serendipity said...

You make this book sound really tempting! I am always looking for books to add to my "to read pile" and this is going straight there. Thanks for stopping by my blog today :-)

Anonymous said...

And which books you have written?

Anonymous said...

if you have written ...

Louise | Italy said...

Dear Anonymous. Get a life.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Book notes No. 38 : A Fair Maiden, Joyce Carol Oates

Above freezing. Grey and snowing. Here in Carmine Superiore, it can't decide whether to settle or not. At lake-level it's raining.

I seem to have known the name Joyce Carol Oates forever, but I think this novel is the first of hers I've read, picked up in a delay-struck airport lounge in a 4 for 3 pile. And what a revelation. 

Katya Spivak. Fifteen. Uneducated. Working class. Desperate for attention.

Marcus Kidder. Sixty-something. Trust-fund child. Sophisticated. Searching for... ?

And that question mark forms the backbone of this suspense-filled, acutely-observed, psychologically wrenching novel. What does Marcus Kidder want from Katya Spivak? And what, for that matter, does Katya Spivak want from Marcus Kidder? 

The story is set on the New Jersey shore, an area I know particularly well, and I instantly recognised the two worlds Oates describes: the blue-collar families without jobs, without books, without any star to live by but some misguided televised idea of the American dream, which seems to consist of the freedom to not-work but get wasted instead; and the rich and elegant, hiding in their compound-gardens, behind their high hedges, giving their names to libraries, and with the leisure to indulge. 

Oates writes here of the coming-of-age of a working class girl. Ignored by her siblings. Blackmailed and lied to by her mother. Treated coldly by her terrified-to-lose-it-all nouveau-riche summer-job employers. Made to feel she is something by her new friend. But what that something is, she cannot tell. A commodity to be bought? A child to be coerced? Or a 'real' person with valid feelings, thoughts, emotions, to be heard, to be valued, even loved? 

The Daily Mail called this book "A delightfully chilling and playful novella from a literary genius", and I'd second that. But it's more. It's also a minutely accurate vision of some of the terrors and uncertainties of growing up female in working class America. 

And my question is: why hasn't anybody yet given this woman the Nobel?    


6 comments:

Vanessa. said...

They say she churns out novels so fast that there can't be any big enough ideas in them...

ladyfi said...

I've heard of Oates, of course, but never read her. Must put her on my Wish List immediately!

Serendipity said...

You make this book sound really tempting! I am always looking for books to add to my "to read pile" and this is going straight there. Thanks for stopping by my blog today :-)

Anonymous said...

And which books you have written?

Anonymous said...

if you have written ...

Louise | Italy said...

Dear Anonymous. Get a life.