The Lost Landscape

(by Joyce Carol Oates).

Joyce Oates wrote this:-

“‘My sweet little blue-eyed girl,’ he said in a half-sung sigh that had nothing to do with [Connie’s] brown eyes but was taken up just the same by the vast sunlit reaches of the land behind him and on all sides of him – so much land that Connie had never seen before and did not recognize except to know that she was going to it.”*

Surely one of the most chilling and sublime sentences in American fiction.

So I pre-ordered the first volume of her memoirs (excluding “A Widow’s Story’) with alacrity and impatience and yet —some doubt.  She so often lets me down.

There are flashes of that brilliance –

“We begin as children imagining and fearing ghosts.  By degrees, through out long lives, we come to be the very ghosts inhabiting the lost landscapes of our childhood“.

And I was pleased to learn that she had a pet Rhode Island Red (sex indeterminate) called Happy Chicken.

But the first half of the book is that worst of all literary failures – a bore.  It does pick up when it becomes more personal – we move from landscape to Oates’ lost friend, lost sister, murders, suicides, clothes, food, inspiration, reading, a crushing year at The University of Wisconsin lightened only by the meeting with her future husband.  We learn virtually nothing about this husband or their lives together. It is a memoir of loss, of moving on but  so much  is missing, elided.  Many of the pieces have been previously published, sometimes in a different form.  As with so much of Oates’ work it is episodic, fragmented and feels lazy.  Will no editor stand up to her, for all of our sakes?

*“Where are you Going, Where have you Been?”


  1. Reply

    Newport Red

    September 28, 2015

    'Where are you going, where have you been?' gets J.C.O. into the Pantheon - one of the best short stories ever

    • Reply

      Lesley Jakobsen

      October 9, 2015

      Absolutely. The accumulation of detail that builds up the feeling of dread....the newspaper-stuffed boots...horror. And that last line! But is JO cruising on the reputation arising from that one work of genius?

  2. Reply


    April 8, 2016

    Joyce has been pumping out words for 50 years. She deserves a rest.

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