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Marya: A Life

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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, 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 ...
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New York, NY 2005 Trade paperback New. No remainder marks, unused, unread. Trade paperback (US). Glued binding. 324 p. Audience: General/trade.

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Marya: A Life

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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, 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.
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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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452280205
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 11/1/1998
  • Pages: 320
  • 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, and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including 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.


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 3.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 23, 2012

    I needed a little more

    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.

    4 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 22, 2014

    Good and Bad, a little high-brow

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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