Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart

( 5 )

Overview

Joyce Carol Oates adds to her extraordinary body of work with this stunning novel of violence and love. At the heart of the story are two people, Iris Courtney, who is white, and handsome Jinx Fairchild, the black basketball player who, in protecting Iris, kills a white man.

Iris is the only witness to the crime.

The two of them are growing up in the early 1950s in a New York industrial town where racial boundaries keep people apart—or bring ...

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Overview

Joyce Carol Oates adds to her extraordinary body of work with this stunning novel of violence and love. At the heart of the story are two people, Iris Courtney, who is white, and handsome Jinx Fairchild, the black basketball player who, in protecting Iris, kills a white man.

Iris is the only witness to the crime.

The two of them are growing up in the early 1950s in a New York industrial town where racial boundaries keep people apart—or bring them together in explosive scenes of fear or desire. The secret link between Iris and Jinx is not only their attraction to each other, but a murder … and a bond of passion and guilt is formed between them. How this one irrevocable, tragic act shapes their lives and alters their destinies becomes Joyce Carol Oates’ finest, emotion-packed novel—a work the critics are calling a masterpiece, the best work of America’s best writer of contemporary realism.

Joyce Carol Oates is in full fire here. The motifs and themes of this rich, intricately textured, realistic novel belong to the American experience of the 1950s and '60s. But the vision of life that animates them is so clear and unflinching that the past comes to us with the force of revelation. "Fiction of extraordinary imaginative power."--The New York Times Book Review. Nominated for the National Book Award.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Racial disharmony from the mid-'50s to mid-'60s propels this tale of the love that binds a black man and a white woman in an upstate New York industrial town wracked by violence and murder. Protagonists Jinx and Iris are ``brilliantly portrayed,'' said PW. ``Oates is a master at realizing the social forces that twist the fates of her characters.'' 50,000 first printing. (Mar.)
Library Journal
The ever-prolific Oates is on familiar ground in her newest novel, which treats the seedy side of a working-class city in upstate New York in the 1950s. Her heroine will be familiar to Oates fans, too: Iris Courtney is the only child of a broken home, gambling father, and alcoholic mother; she's waif-like, intelligent, and sensitive and carries with her the air of a victim. When a black classmate--handsome, academic, athletic Jinx Fairchild--murders mean ``white trash'' Little Red Garlock to protect Iris from Red's lewd advances, Iris carries the secret through her adolescence. The Courtney, Garlock, and Fairchild families are here used to explore racism at a time of awakening social consciousness, but Iris alone seems fully imagined. A large, significant work that will please Oates fans. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/89.-- Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., Va.
Marilynne Robinson
Fiction of extraordinarily imaginative power. -- The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452265813
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/28/1991
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 699,292
  • Product dimensions: 5.38 (w) x 7.98 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

In addition to many prize-winning and bestselling novels, including We Were the Mulvaneys, Black Water, and Because It Is Bitter and Because It Is My Heart (available in Plume editions), Joyce Carol Oates is the author of a number of works of gothic fiction including Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque (Plume), a 1995 World Fantasy Award nominee; and Zombie (Plume), winner of the 1996 Bram Stoker Award for Best Horror Novel, awarded by the Horror Writers' Association. In 1994, Oates received the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award in Horror Fiction. She is the editor of American Gothic Tales and her latest novel is Broke Heart Blues (Dutton). She lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Biography

Joyce Carol Oates is one of the most influential and important storytellers in the literary world. She has often used her supreme narrative skills to examine the dark side of middle-class Americana, and her oeuvre includes some of the finest examples of modern essays, plays, criticism, and fiction from a vast array of genres. She is still publishing with a speed and consistency of quality nearly unheard of in contemporary literature.

A born storyteller, Oates has been spinning yarns since she was a little girl too young to even write. Instead, she would communicate her stories through drawings and paintings. When she received her very first typewriter at the age of 14, her creative floodgates opened with a torrent. She says she wrote "novel after novel" throughout high school and college -- a prolificacy that has continued unabated throughout a professional career that began in 1963 with her first short story collection, By the North Gate.

Oates's breakthrough occurred in 1969 with the publication of them, a National Book Award winner that established her as a force to be reckoned with. Since that auspicious beginning, she has been nominated for nearly every major literary honor -- from the PEN/Faulkner Award to the Pulitzer Prize -- and her fiction turns up with regularity on The New York Times annual list of Notable Books.

On average Oates publishes at least one novel, essay anthology, or story collection a year (during the 1970s, she produced at the astonishing rate of two or three books a year!). And although her fiction often exposes the darker side of America's brightest facades – familial unrest, sexual violence, the death of innocence – she has also made successful forays into Gothic novels, suspense, fantasy, and children's literature. As novelist John Barth once remarked, "Joyce Carol Oates writes all over the aesthetical map."

Where she finds the time for it no one knows, but Oates manages to combine her ambitious, prolific writing career with teaching: first at the University of Windsor in Canada, then (from 1978 on), at Princeton University in New Jersey. For all her success and fame, her daily routine of teaching and writing has changed very little, and her commitment to literature as a transcendent human activity remains steadfast.

Good To Know

When not writing, Oates likes to take in a fight. "Boxing is a celebration of the lost religion of masculinity all the more trenchant for its being lost," she says in highbrow fashion of the lowbrow sport.

Oates's Black Water, which is a thinly veiled account of Ted Kennedy's car crash in Chappaquiddick, was produced as an opera in the 1990s.

In 2001, Oprah Winfrey selected Oates's novel We Were the Mulvaneys for her Book Club.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Rosamond Smith
    2. Hometown:
      Princeton, New Jersey
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 16, 1938
    2. Place of Birth:
      Lockport, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Syracuse University, 1960; M.A., University of Wisconsin, 1961

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 12, 2010

    A Masterpiece

    I had previously thought that the Gravedigger's Daughter, also by Joyce Carol Oates, was my favorite novel. This rivals that work in every way. Truly a bitter sweet masterpiece.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2005

    still thinking about it..

    This was the first book i ever read by Joyce Carol Oates. It was amazing. Its not the plot I loved, or even the book as a whole, but the mind and thoughts of the young girl. She had such vivd thoughts, feelings, emotions. I am still thinking about that book even after I have long since finished it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2001

    Haunting. . .

    This is one of those books you don't stop thinking about even after you've finished reading it. The characters are very real, never one-dimensional. Although the time setting is in the 50's and 60's, the issues, moral challenges and thought processes have a timelessness about them. A fictional novel that FEELS like real life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2001

    Believability helps make it as good as it is...

    Joyce Carol Oates describes the people and places in 'Upstate' New York of the fifties as well as John Updike or Philip Roth. Naturally, her feminine perspective differs from theirs and this book is worth reading to watch her characters unfold over a period of about ten years in a story that seems like it really happened.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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