Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “joyce carol oates”

pyrajane’s review #51: Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart by Joyce Carol Oates

Bitter

This is a brilliant book.  Oates’ writing is simply stunning.  Sometimes her words twirl and spin slowly like honey being drizzled into hot tea.  Descriptions and moments spill silkily across the pages.  It is especially breathtaking when she does this during the darkest moments of the book.  Her descriptions of ugliness, pain and fear follow staccato beats, pulsing into your mind.  It’s poetry in prose form and as I read I had to pause from time to time to simply enjoy the rhythm of the book and reread the art of her writing.  I have a feeling I’m going to gloriously devour more of her books over the next few months.

Please stop by my blog to read the whole review, including my adoration of Oates.

sonk’s #CBR4 Review #24: Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

This book. Oh my god. This was one of the most incredible reading experiences of my life, and I’ve read a lot of books.

Blonde is, appropriately, about Marilyn Monroe. Or rather, Norma Jeane, a woman (although really more of a girl) who has almost nothing in common with the sex kitten movie star we all know so well. This is a fictionalized account of her life, although Oates pulls a lot from fact. We follow Norma from her childhood in a foster home to her torrid past as a soft-core picture model to her rise as the most famous starlet in the world, all the way through to her downfall and, inevitably, her death. Along the way, we meet the people most important to Norma—lovers, anonymous father, absentee mother, agents and photographers and the people responsible for creating a celebrity.

First of all, I just have to say that Oates is an absolutely phenomenal writer. I was introduced to some of her essays this past year and loved them, but this novel is on a completely different level of brilliance. She is Norma. She inhabits the character like I’ve never seen an author do before. She captures the neuroses and paranoia and joy and child-like innocence and love and fear and power of the most famous woman in the world, rendering her as a person, not simply a gorgeous face and simpering giggle. Norma is hers, completely, and I often had to remind myself that I wasn’t reading her diary, that she wasn’t real (or, at least, that these were not her real thoughts). Oates brings you almost uncomfortably close—even when I put the book down, I felt haunted by Norma Jeane’s voice. The writing is very lyrical and free-flowing—there is little structure in a traditional sense. It’s almost poetic in a lot of places, stream-of-consciousness and completely absorbing. It got overwhelming at times, so much so that I’d have to set down my book and come up for air, reminding myself that the world I’d just been inhabiting wasn’t the real one. Norma broke my heart. I fell in love with her—it would have been incredibly hard not to.

This book isn’t real. I have no way of knowing if this portrayal of Norma even came close to the real woman. But it’s so convincing, so affecting, so powerful, that I choose to believe it is. Oates sees a woman often dismissed as a simpering bimbo as, instead,  a powerful performer, an intelligent mind, a fundamentally complex and misunderstood being. Her Norma is perfectly written, and 100% believable.

This was easily the best book I’ve read all year. Put down what you’re reading right now, and go get yourself a copy. You’ll thank yourself.

HelloKatieO’s #CBR4 Review #03: The Best American Nonrequired Reading edited by Dave Eggers

The premise of The Best American Nonrequired Reading is simple. Part of Houghton Mifflin’s Best American series, the anthology includes short works of fiction and nonfiction published in newspapers, magazines and online. Dave Eggers (of McSweeney’s fame) edits the anthology.

I don’t normally read short stories, which translates into…I don’t ever read short stories. It takes me 15-30 pages to get attached to a book, it’s stories, it’s premise, and it’s characters, and by the time I get invested in a short story, it’s over. My Aunt gave this to me, and she’s given me some of my all time favorite books over the years. So I decided to dig in anyway, and it was worth the 12 hours it took to complete the book. Because this was a collection of short stories, I’m going to highlight the three pieces that resonated with me.

Orange” by Neil Gaman, originally published in Southwest Airlines Spirit Magazine, is a set of responses to unseen questions. Partially a story of aliens, partially the story of a disturbed young girl, and partially a work of incredible imagination, the tension builds throughout the story despite the fact you never see the questions. It’s hard to explain the appeal, but the pop culture references and blunt descriptions were so descriptive I basically projected an HD quality picture of the story unfolding in my mind. Fascinating.

“A Hole in the Head” by Joyce Carol Oates, originally published in The Kenyon Review. For shame, I’ve never read any Joyce Carol Oates before. This story chronicles the guilt of a plastic surgeon operating in a wealthy suburban area, who ultimately agrees to perform a dangerous, controversial procedure on a patient offering a large pay off, in hopes of saving his destitute practice. The bloody, gruesome details, overarching struggle with morality and the desperation of both the doctor and patient burned themselves into my brain. Classic fairy tales (think Grimm’s, not Disney) are frequently as gory and depressing as this story because children respond best to extreme forms of emotional stimulation. Maybe it’s because I never outgrew the childhood fascination with blood and death, but this story triggered some extremely strong, unsettling emotions.

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