Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Presque Isle - Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates - June 16, 1938

One of the reasons why I enjoy reading Oates so much is that she writes with just the right amount of rawness that leaves you to question if you should be reading what she has written.

Sometimes the raw nature comes though the entire theme of the short story – sometimes in a sentence, a paragraph, sometimes it’s just a word, placed ever so perfectly within a dialogue.

The passages that pulled me out of my rhythm of reading are below.

Now Oates and other writers that I enjoy, really do wonderful things why they employ their little tricks like the underlined passages above illustrate.

Stilton cheese – her introduction of this cheese into the scene pulls you into the room with the mother and daughter. Stilton is a cheese with a smell that stays with you –forever-.

Next, as a male, the mention of female body parts hits a part of the brain that awakens certain reactions within most men. Oates casually places those sentences causing stimulations where interesting connections develop in the brain.

Oates does this quite often in her writing. The reader is cruising along at a nice pace, having become comfortable with the story – even if it is of the “disturbing” type, you’ve adjusted - and then, BAM! - she picks you up and drops you into another part of the room, slaps you across the face and forces you to look at something that was hidden from you before – and what you see, shocks you for a moment – perhaps because it is something that you have never read before – or perhaps it causes a reaction in you that you may find disturbing – a physical reaction – a skipped heartbeat, a pulse quickened, skin tightening, a thought of the sexual nature...

Does she do this for “shock value”?

I don’t necessarily think so.

Her style of writing over the years has been pretty well defined, and she includes enough violence, perversion and death in her stories not to draw the conclusion that she is just writing about the above to “shock”.

I think that regular readers of Oates come to expect to read the perverse, the violence or death contained within her writing, - and those that happen to stumble across her in a magazine are either turned on by what they read or are repulsed.

I enjoyed this short because Oates does a fine job of lifting the sugary gloss off our lives and showing us what really exists under all the sweetness. The early 1980s turned into a nice dip tank to peel off the sweet innocence of American life. Sure, it had been going on for some time, the peeling, but bubbling to the top was the drugs, the greed, the sex, and the deviant that ride along beside us daily... just out of sight.

Other writers can do this, but not the way Oates does it (see above).

I’ve certainly been in situations, and I think you could draw a similar conclusion, where I have come across a bit of information concerning a family member or a friend, and the acquisition of that knowledge causes a radical shift in what I think of that person. That information usually exists in the realm of the taboo, which makes it even more disturbing – exciting?

Looking inward at our own scars and paper cuts - We all have weaknesses, and Oates peels the bandage off those little cuts and drops a bit of salt into each - drawing just the right amount of recognition to them. She causes us to see ourselves, our families our friends and lovers in a new light – an honest and sharply focused light – a blazing raw 150 watt bulb in the face light.

And what is so wonderful about this is that it needs to be done more often – by more writers. We need to be lifted out of our Soma daze.

This woman will jack your junk up!!!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for reminding me of the need to jack my junk up. I'm writing a story collection right now that I've come to realize is a bit too sedate and calm in tone - which is fitting given my personality, but not necessarily capable of holding the reader's interest. I definitely need to give the writing more of an edge.