Marya: A Life

Marya: A Life

3.2 5
by Joyce Carol Oates

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Successful author and famous intellectual Marya Knauer did not always occupy such a secure and comfortable position in life. Her memories of her childhood in Innisfail, New York are by turns romantic and traumatic. The early violent death of her father and abandonment by her mother have left her with a permanent sense of dislocation and loss. After decades apart,


Successful author and famous intellectual Marya Knauer did not always occupy such a secure and comfortable position in life. Her memories of her childhood in Innisfail, New York are by turns romantic and traumatic. The early violent death of her father and abandonment by her mother have left her with a permanent sense of dislocation and loss. After decades apart, Marya becomes determined to find the mother who gave her away. In searching for her past, Marya changes her present life more than she could ever have imagined. Vividly evoking the natural beauty of rural upstate New York, and the complex emotions of a woman artist, Marya: A Life is one of Joyce Carol Oates's most deeply personal and fully-realized novels.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Some formative scenes from the ``life'' of an American writer and scholar: At eight, Marya is deserted by her mother when her father is killed by union strike-breakers. Raised by an uncaring aunt and uncle, she is sexually abused by their son. A young priest, the first of Marya's spiritual mentors, dies. At a high school graduation party given partly to celebrate her winning a college scholarship, three classmates cut off most of her hair. Though she distinguishes herself academically at the university, Marya is betrayed by her only female friend and later suffers the death of her first lover, a professor some 30 years her senior. Her next lover, a married publisher who has introduced her to the literary life of New York, dies as well. It is as if Marya's life is fated to rise from the ashes of everyone she cares for. Yet another rebirth seems slated at book's end, when she receives a letter from her long-lost mother which may ``change'' her life. One doubts it. Regardless of the events described, Marya's character undergoes little revision. From the first, she is a dry-eyed, gritty observer of a world whose degradations are presumably more safely viewed from behind the walls of academe. This latest novel from Oates (Solstice is unrelievedly grim. Literary Guild featured alternate. February 24
Library Journal
Unlike Oates's recent gothic and Victorian excesses, Marya is a fairly straightforward narrative closer in style to some of the earlier novels, such as Them and A Garden of Earthly Delights , that established her reputation as a leading American novelist. Constructed on a more intimate scale than those books, it is a stark, well-drawn portrait of the title character told in ``scenes from the life'' style, from Marya's early days of poverty, her life as an abandoned child raised by an aunt and uncle, through hard-won college success and an academic career. Marya's development and her innermost fears and insecurities are revealed in a very personal, almost autobiographical manner. A major work by an important writer, this belongs in most libraries. Ann H. Fisher, Radford P . L . , Va.

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.36(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.88(d)

Meet the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. 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.

Brief Biography

Princeton, New Jersey
Date of Birth:
June 16, 1938
Place of Birth:
Lockport, New York
B.A., Syracuse University, 1960; M.A., University of Wisconsin, 1961

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Marya: A Life 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Of everything but transgender do we really care about her angst musings would prefer artist rather than writer but no doubt will have one in another book dated but now days a year will do it
AlegriaJU More than 1 year ago
This book ran hot and cold for me. I loved the author's insightful "We Were the Mulvaneys", but I was disappointed in this book. The high-brow, disdainful, self-absorbed character was hard for me to relate to. When her stream-of-conscious philosophizing is done about academia and the literary world I lost comprehension of its concepts and vocabulary. I did like the parts of her grim, sad childhood, events in her young womanhood, and her final search for her long-lost mother. But I did not like the ending. It needed more aftermath.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Camboron More than 1 year ago
In the beginning of this novel, we witness raw ideas and sensations that can only exist before our experiences shape and define them. Here begins the story of Marya, sent to live with her aunt and uncle along with her siblings. She is wild, close to feral, and yet, somehow flourishes through will alone at time to become a distinguished writer and scholar. The few details I know of Oates’ life seem to resonate with this story, and I’d like to think there is a little more of her in the novel than what she usually invests. There are so many tropes abound that usually end in cliché (sexual awakening, the freedom of college, professor crushes, sorority girl takes on project, etc.) that for a second you roll your eyes…until you remember you are reading Oates, and that there will always be something around the corner, whether it be a stark, honest portrayal, or a shocking development, still somehow more believable than expected. She can turn innocuous into horrific on a dime. She can take characters and, without changing them, have them perceived as good, evil, heroic, or the subject of derision. Joyce also writes with her amazing metaphors and intriguing dialogue. She can write a stunning micro-clause, like Michael Cunningham. She can find (with her impeccable research, or, perhaps knowledge) the perfect quote or metaphor that matches the forte, profession, or life experience of the character. I still don’t know how she can get into the skull of academic and bumpkin alike. I’d like to think I can say she captures impeccably “the world of the play”, something I learned way back in drama class. The novel also seems clearer in its structure. Not to say that her writing isn’t always clear, it is, but, many of her books I’ve read recently seem mutable and ever-changing. Here is a life, laid-out in its most powerful moments, logically, like “reality” which is yet another angle of Oates’ “prodigious output” And when that life comes full circle, we wonder about the power of false hope, and think that if we hadn’t gone so far away, it might have been easier to confront our deepest fears. I only wish that this biography of sorts would have resonated with more meaning for me. Still, I am such a fan of Oates’ work, and am not disappointed in the slightest.