Little Bird of Heaven

( 15 )

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 ...

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Little Bird of Heaven

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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."
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.”
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.”
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: 9780594044840
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/15/2009
  • Pages: 442
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the Chicago Tribune Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys; Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award; and the New York Times bestseller The Accursed. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.

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
( 15 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 16 of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Joyce is a scrumptious writer.

    As always she delivers a dense portrait of characters in captivating situations. Highly recommended.

    Unbelievably my last order on line with B&N was delivered to me in 5 hours...How do they do that? I ordered it at 2:30 and it was in my home before I got home from work at 7:30. AMAZING.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    LITTLE BIRD OF HEAVEN is a fabulous character study

    In 1983 in Sparta, New York Zoe Kruller and Eddy Diehl are having an affair. She is a gentle beauty while he is kick butt tough guy. All is great between these opposites until her young son Aaron finds her murdered body. The police hone in on the two male adults in Zoe's life, her spouse and her lover.

    Five years after the homicide, the police arrive at Eddy's home. He refuses to cooperate and instead challenges the cops even as his horrified daughter Krista watches the macabre event as if it is a movie scene. He is shot down in what is called a suicide; case closed as far as the cops and the people of Sparta are concerned, but not the survivors. Instead their respective offspring are traumatized by events, but though they try to move on separately, neither can. Then they meet.

    LITTLE BIRD OF HEAVEN is a fabulous character study that looks deep at the offspring generation surviving a tragedy. Krista tells the tale, which focuses on psychological defense mechanism employed by her (denial her father might have done the deed) and by him (denial that his mom was having an affair). Neither is able to move past the respective defining moments in their lives, seeing the corpse of a parent who had a violent death. Fans will relish prolific author Joyce Carol Oates's latest psychological suspense as Krista and Aaron meet each other and the ghosts they carry inside their hearts.

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Boring

    Very boring, uninteresting book. Not sure why I bothered finishing it.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    not my favorite

    I just could not get into this book. I did not like the writing style. I thought I had read books of hers before, but this one just did not make me want to even continue.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 11, 2009

    Disappointment

    I love Joyce Carol Oates, but this book moves way way too slow. What a disappointment.

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