(by Joyce Carol Oates)
Joyce Carol Oates confounds me. Why is it that she is right up there in the pantheon of Writers-I-Want-To-Be, while I so often find her writing lacklustre? Why does she write so much? Why does she persist in the annoying over-use of italics to emphasise? Why does she use her full, unwieldy name? Is there a “Joyce Oates” out there writing “blood-and-guts” fiction? Perhaps the answer to all of my JCO-related questions is that she needs an editor who will tell her the truth.
These four novellas are examples of work which is good but not good enough. The common factor is meant to be “Love Gone Wrong”. “Same Old, Same Old” might have been more descriptive. The first story, “Evil Eye” gives us one of Oates’s naïve, bemused, apparently unlovable young women in a relationship with a much older, sinister, disaffected man. So far so usual but there is a surprise In the tail. “So Near Any Time Always” features another naïve, bemused, apparently unlovable young woman who would fall in love with a toad if it paid any attention to her, and does. The words of the title are used to great effect, as any vulnerable woman who has been stalked will agree. “The Execution” stars a standard Oates vile frat boy. It’s an enterprising exercise in nastiness but somehow pointless. “The Flatbed” is the fourth story. Oh dear. In this one a naïve, bemused, apparently unlovable young woman in a relationship with a much older, sinister disaffected man allows him to punish the much older, sinister, disaffected man who hurt the woman in the past – with sensational (but highly unlikely) results.
Joyce Carol Oates needs an editor. Let’s start by calling her “Joyce Oates” in future. That’ll undermine Gore Vidal’s unfair smear: “Joyce Carol Oates, the three most dispiriting words in the English language.”