Little Bird of Heaven

Little Bird of Heaven

3.8 15
by Joyce Carol Oates
     
 

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Joyce Carol Oates returns with a dark, romantic, and captivating tale, set in the Great Lakes region of upstate New York—the territory of her remarkably successful New York Times bestseller The Gravedigger's Daughter.

Set in the mythical small city of Sparta, New York, this searing, vividly rendered exploration of the mysterious conjunction of erotic

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Overview

Joyce Carol Oates returns with a dark, romantic, and captivating tale, set in the Great Lakes region of upstate New York—the territory of her remarkably successful New York Times bestseller The Gravedigger's Daughter.

Set in the mythical small city of Sparta, New York, this searing, vividly rendered exploration of the mysterious conjunction of erotic romance and tragic violence in late-twentieth-century America returns to the emotional and geographical terrain of acclaimed author Joyce Carol Oates's previous bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys and The Gravedigger's Daughter.

When a young wife and mother named Zoe Kruller is found brutally murdered, the Sparta police target two primary suspects, her estranged husband, Delray Kruller, and her longtime lover, Eddy Diehl. In turn, the Krullers' son, Aaron, and Eddy Diehl's daughter, Krista, become obsessed with each other, each believing the other's father is guilty.

Told in halves in the very different voices of Krista and Aaron, Little Bird of Heaven is a classic Oates novel in which the lyricism of intense sexual love is intertwined with the anguish of loss, and tenderness is barely distinguishable from cruelty. By the novel's end, the fated lovers, meeting again as adults, are at last ready to exorcise the ghosts of the past and come to terms with their legacy of guilt, misplaced love, and redemptive yearning.

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Editorial Reviews

Michael Lindgren
This is a powerful novel. Oates's feel for the rhythms of hardscrabble life and its sour mix of alcoholism, suicide, drug abuse, adultery and murder is as keen as ever. In Sparta she has created a fictional universe to stand beside Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County or Cheever's Shady Hill. Her descriptions of the geography of urban decay—the rusted bridges, tangled back alleys and trash-strewn lots—are as vivid as any naturalist's portrayal of more felicitous scenes. Her unsentimental language makes a high-lonesome kind of poetry out of otherwise sordid and unremarkable circumstance.
—The Washington Post
Malena Watrous
Little Bird of Heaven starts with the urgency of a thriller, then turns into something more existential as the years (and pages) go by with no developments in the case. This is a tragedy on a classical scale. Oates more than winks at the Greeks by naming the town Sparta, the murdered woman Zoe (which means "life"). Like the original Spartans, these people are stuck in a world where physicality dominates and runs violent…Oates has been chided for a tendency toward melodrama, and the emotions in Little Bird of Heaven are definitely intense. Krista often sounds florid. But melodrama is a valid tool, one the Greeks used as well to dramatize the height of passion. In real melodrama, there's a stark line between villains and innocents. In this novel, it's not that straightforward. Oates has written a feminist novel with empathy for men, especially men without power, with no voice besides violence.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Beneath the Sturm und Drang of Oates's third book of 2009 is the archetypal fairy tale: beauty and the beast. The beauties are the narrator, Krista Diehl, and Zoe Kruller, a waitress and singer who was murdered in Sparta, N.Y., in 1983. The beasts are the men, most notably Krista's father, Eddy, who, as Zoe's lover, is suspected in her murder, and Aaron Kruller, who discovers his mother's body and grows up repressing the thought that his father might have killed her. While the women are torn between attraction to the men and the need to escape them, the men must eventually be blooded, psychically and, in Eddy's case, physically. Eddy starts out a predator, with “tufts of animal-hair” sticking out of his undershirt, and ends up at the wrong end of a barrage of police bullets. While Zoe's murder and Eddy's suicide-by-cop five years later are the story's anchors, the heart of this novel is how Krista and Aaron are drawn together, however briefly. Oates unfolds the central gothic intuition—that beauty and the beast are complements—in a way that Charlotte Brontë would highly approve. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Oates once again takes us to deteriorating upstate New York, this time the city of Sparta, where, as in We Were the Mulvanys, a tragic incident has devastating effects on two families. When Zoe Kruller is found brutally murdered, suspicion falls on husband Delray and on lover Eddy Diehl. Neither man is arrested, but each is forced to live under a veil of continued suspicion. In this story, it's the children who suffer the most, and they also narrate: first Eddy's daughter Krista and then Delray's son Aaron. Eddy separates from his wife and family and leaves Sparta, but Krista believes in her father's innocence, recounting life before and after the crime and offering her recollections of Zoe. Aaron recounts finding his mother's body and the bitterness of living with such notoriety. In typical Oates irony, Krista develops a crush on Aaron, climaxing in a deeply emotional scene; 15 years later they find out who killed Zoe. VERDICT Not Oates's best work, but her readers will find the psychological suspense combined with tragedy and redemption a good read. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/09.]—Josh Cohen Mid-Hudson Lib. Syst., Poughkeepsie, NY
Kirkus Reviews
Typically overstuffed chronicle of sexual violence and family implosion, closest in kinship within the author's family of novels to We Were the Mulvaneys (1996) and You Must Remember This (1987). En route to challenging Balzac's lifetime stats, Oates is now somewhere in Trollope territory-Barbara Cartland is of course unapproachable-with her 36th novel and third book-length fiction published in 2009. She divides this one between the narrative of Krista Diehl, passionately adoring daughter of Eddie, a known adulterer and suspected murderer, and the story of Aaron Kruller, the part-Native American son of the murdered woman. Zoe Kruller, Eddie's mistress before he was accused of killing her, was a seductive, reputedly round-heeled waitress and aspiring band singer; the title alludes to a gritty country-and-western ballad. Oates succeeds best when depicting downbeat real life and sentimental dreams of something better in the fictional upstate hamlet of Sparta, N.Y. But boastful, hair-trigger-tempered Eddie, his spiteful, betrayed wife Lucille and Krista's sullen older brother Ben are all recycled from earlier books, and Krista's emotional defense of her doting daddy is as devoid of conviction or resonance as it is creepy. When Oates shifts to Aaron's story, however, the book starts to fly. The misshapen product of unconscionable parenting and a racist environment, Aaron seethes with an I'll-get-those-bastards fury that all but burns holes in the pages. This small-town Caliban, a hound of hell powered by unquenchable rage and vindictiveness, is one of Oates's most unforgettable characters. If only Krista's bloated narrative had had one-tenth the concentrated heat of Aaron's seeminglyforeordained decline and fall. One-half of a masterpiece. Author appearances in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Princeton, and Washington, D.C.
All Things Considered - NPR
"Neither crime, nor punishment, the ultimate coupling in the novel serves as a triumph and a release on a scale and with the intensity we’ve come to expect from one of our country’s premier writers."
Elle
“Oates’ 57th novel is a doozie....It’s vintage Oates: tragic violence, outsize ambitions, dashed hopes, strained family bonds, manly-men roughing up sassy-yet-submissive women, and, of course, sex-crazed teenagers.”
The Onion
“Well-told and ultimately powerful.”
BookPage
“[This novel] is classic Oates. Its depiction of violence, families falling from grace and social class disparities, as well as its location, recall her 1996 bestseller, WE WERE THE MULVANEYS. Fans of Oates will delight in this offering and newcomers to her work will receive a first-class introduction.”
Associated Press
“’Quintessential Joyce Carol Oates: an expertly crafted, lovingly detailed character-driven novel of loss and longing. ”
Washington Post
“A powerful novel...In Sparta she has created a fictional universe to stand beside Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County or Cheever’s Shady Hill....Oates [is] our closest contemporary analogue to Hawthorne: lyrical, moral, unforgiving.”
New York Times Book Review
“Little Bird of Heaven starts with the urgency of thriller, then turns into something more existential as the years (and pages) go by...This is a tragedy on a classical scale...Oates has written a feminist novel with empathy for men, especially men without power, with no voice besides violence.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“[This is] the novelist at her brooding best . . . a seamless, satisfying tale of small-town life where...the long-smoldering relationships among the residents can often be like ‘tangled roots, beneath the surface of the earth.’”
New York Post
“Readers are breathlessly along for the ride, never sure if Oates will let [her characters] reach redemption or have them fall prey to the hands of their violent, unforgiving upbringings.”
Chicago Sun-Times
“[This novel]...has an unnerving clarity about the power of sexual desire...it cleaves to the mind like a strong memory, and after you’ve read it, you may find yourself dreaming about the imaginary town of Sparta, and wondering what the people are doing now.”
NPR's All Things Considered
“Neither crime, nor punishment, the ultimate coupling in the novel serves as a triumph and a release on a scale and with the intensity we’ve come to expect from one of our country’s premier writers.”
Good Housekeeping
“An absorbing study of lust, trust, and an unsolved murder, Oates’s gritty new mystery explores the attraction between the son of the victim and daughter of the accused.”
Booklist
“In this narcotic, unnerving, brilliantly composed tale of the struggle for control over the body’s archaic urges, and the quest for morality in a catastrophically corrupted world, Oates creates magnetic characters of heightened awareness and staggering valor.”
Associated Press Staff
“’Quintessential Joyce Carol Oates: an expertly crafted, lovingly detailed character-driven novel of loss and longing. ”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061829833
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
09/15/2009
Pages:
442
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

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