Missing Mom

( 20 )

Overview

Nikki Eaton, single, thirty-one, sexually liberated, and economically self-supporting, has never particularly thought of herself as a daughter. Yet, following the unexpected loss of her mother, she undergoes a remarkable transformation during a tumultuous year that brings stunning horror, sorrow, illumination, wisdom, and even&#8212from an unexpected source&#8212a nurturing love.

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Overview

Nikki Eaton, single, thirty-one, sexually liberated, and economically self-supporting, has never particularly thought of herself as a daughter. Yet, following the unexpected loss of her mother, she undergoes a remarkable transformation during a tumultuous year that brings stunning horror, sorrow, illumination, wisdom, and even&#8212from an unexpected source&#8212a nurturing love.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
“Arresting...”
New York Times Book Review
“Arresting...”
Stacey D'Erasmo
With Missing Mom, Oates turns her considerable force on the conundrum of the absence of an ordinary woman, Gwen Eaton, a 56-year-old housewife in Mount Ephraim, N.Y.…and how that absence ripples through the lives around her…Oates's grip on crime, violence and the long-buried is sure, but Missing Mom is actually more disturbing in its relentless, dead-on accretion of small-time, small-town, middle-class details. Oates piles them on with pitiless virtuosity.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
Oates's latest returns to upstate New York's Mount Ephraim, the setting of We Were the Mulvaneys, Oates's 1996 novel-a 2001 Oprah pick-about one family's privilege and decay. This time, Oates turns to the middle class: narrator Nikki Eaton, 31, is a reporter for the smalltown Beacon and her family's black sheep. She's having an affair with a married DJ; she barely tolerates her widowed mother, Gwen, and her homemaker sister, Clare. As the novel opens, Nikki arrives at Gwen's Mother's Day party with newly spiked, "inky-maroon" hair and contempt for Gwen's cooking, one-story house and endless munificence to her ragtag guests. Two days later, Gwen is murdered by an ex-con. Chronicling Nikki's year following Gwen's death, the novel includes some wonderfully precise emotional observations. But more often the prose sags beneath the weight of banal information and a story line too redolent of pulp. Naturally, the "swarthy" police detective investigating Gwen's murder initially seems repulsive, and naturally, in the novel's final pages, Nikki thinks: "I had not noticed in the past how strong his profile was." There are no surprises, that's for sure. And yet the novel is so conventional and relentlessly detailed that it can't help showing its characters behaving in ways that resonate. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Nicole, 31, is living an extended adolescence, still in rebellion against her parents' suburban middle-class, do-the-right-thing lifestyle. Her father has recently died; her older, domestic diva sister is prone to histrionics. Nicole herself is involved with a married man and does not have a clue how her actions may impact other people. Everything changes in an instant when Nicole's mother, Gwen, dies in a violent assault. After the ensuing investigations and memorials, everyone is surprised when Nicole steps into her mother's shoes and gradually begins to adopt aspects of Gwen's personality. Within this transformative process, hidden details of Gwen's life come to light; we learn that this cheerful, perhaps overzealous woman who was called "Feather" in high school had some ghosts of her own. This time around, Oates, one of America's greatest writers, has not written one of her "broad views" into American society, but rather one of her intimate portraits of family relationships. It may not make a big splash, but loyal fans will want it. Recommended for larger popular fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/05.]-Susanne Wells, P.L. of Cincinnati and Hamilton Cty., OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Oates's latest, which examines the aftershocks of a suburban murder, is an uneasy cross between her literary fiction and her pseudonymous "Rosamond Smith" mystery thrillers. It begins on Mother's Day, when narrator Nikki Eaton attends a party for her widowed mother, Gwen, and, as usual, blends in awkwardly, offending the sensibilities of her married older sister Clare, as well as her mother's assorted friends (who are, effectively, beneficiaries of Gwen's unquenchable good will). Things spin quickly out of control when Gwen is robbed and murdered by wretched "meth-head" ex-convict Ward Lynch, and the quiet neighborhood (in upstate Mt. Ephraim, NY) where she had lived for 30 years tries to cope with the ensuing emotional fallout. Sticking strictly to Nikki's viewpoint, Oates portrays her narrator as a free-spirited (possibly just borderline-trashy?) babe who works as a feature-writer for a regional weekly newspaper, sustains a ragged affair with married developer and radio deejay Wally Szalla (who may or may not divorce his wife), and grieves awkwardly for her mother, while waiting to learn whether Lynch will plead guilty or stand trial, and deflecting the hesitant attentions of a police detective whose interest in her seems less than professional. The novel consists of bulky setpieces in which Nikki discusses her Gwen with the cartoonishly intemperate Clare, people who remember Gwen's vibrant youth and probably loveless marriage to a cold-fish husband, and, finally, the former boyfriend who abandoned Gwen to enter the priesthood. Add in flashbacks to Nikki's childhood and early adulthood, and the novel becomes irrationally bloated; on virtually every page, we sense Oates's desperation toextend this banal premise, overwriting, incessantly over-detailing. The only halfway credible character is Gwen's surly tomcat Smoky-probably because we aren't made privy to his thoughts. After last year's triumph The Falls, Oates gives us this? Get this woman an editor.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060816223
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/22/2006
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 659,210
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.04 (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

Read an Excerpt

Missing Mom

A Novel
By Joyce Oates

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Joyce Oates
All right reserved.

ISBN: 006081621X

Chapter One

mother's day

May 9, 2004. One of those aloof-seeming spring days: very sunny but not very warm.

Gusts of wind rushing down from Lake Ontario in mean little skirmishes like hit-and-run. A sky hard-looking as blue tile. That wet-grassy smell lifting from the neat rectangular front lawns on Deer Creek Drive.

In patches lilac bushes were blooming up and down the street. Vivid glowing-purple, lavender like swipes of paint.

At 43 Deer Creek, my parents' house, where Mom lived alone now that Dad had died, there were too many vehicles parked in the driveway and at the curb. My brother-in-law's Land Rover, my Aunt Tabitha's old black hearse-sized Caddie, these made sense, but there were others including a low-slung lipstick-red sports car shaped like a missile.

Who did Mom know, who'd drive such a car?

Damned if I wanted to meet him. (Had to be a him.)

My mother was always introducing me to "eligible bachelors." Since I was involved with an ineligible man.

It was like Mom to invite people outside the family for Mother's Day. It was like Mom to invite people who were practically strangers into her house.

I parked the car across the street. I'd begun to whistle. It seemed to tamp down my adrenaline, whistling when I was in danger of becoming over-excited. My father had whistled a lot around the house.

Mother's Day: I was bringing Mom a present so soft, so gossamer-light it seemed to have no weight but lay across my outstretched arms like something sleeping. I'd spent a frustrating half-hour wrapping it in rainbow tin foil, crisscrossing the foil with multi-colored yarns instead of ribbon; I had a vision of the sort of wild/funny/funky look I wanted for the gift, and had to settle for this cross between New Age and Kindergarten. I'd taken a half-day off from work to find an appropriate gift for my mother who presented a riddle to her grown daughters, for she seemed in need of nothing.

Anyway, nothing we could give her.

We'd wanted to take Mom out, of course. My sister Clare and me. Why not, for once, a Mother's Day meal in elegant surroundings, the Mt. Ephraim Inn for instance. No need for Mom to prepare one of her complicated meals, work herself into a state of nerves inviting guests at the last minute like a train hooking on extra cars, careening and swerving along the tracks!

No need. Except of course Mom resisted. Maybe when Dad had been alive, if he'd insisted on taking her out she'd have consented, but now Dad was gone, there was just Clare and me hoping to persuade our mother to behave reasonably.

You know how I love to cook. This is the nicest Mother's Day present you girls can give me, my family visiting and letting me cook for them.

Then, vehemently as if protecting her innocent/ignorant daughters from being swindled Pay prices like that for food? When I can prepare a meal for us for a fraction of the cost, and better?

There were three ways into Mom's house: front door, side door, through the garage. Most days I used the side door, that opened directly into the kitchen.

The door to which Mom had affixed little bells that tinkled merrily, like a shopkeeper's door, when you pushed it open.

"Ohhh Nikki! What have you done with your hair!"

First thing Mom said to me. Before I was through the doorway and into the kitchen. Before she hugged me stepping back with this startled look in her face.

I would remember the way Mom's voice lifted on hair like the cry of a bird shot in mid-flight.

Mom had a round childlike face that showed every emotion clear as water. Her skin was flushed as if windburnt, her eyes were wide-open greeny-amber. Since Dad's death she'd become a darting little hummingbird of a woman. Her shock at my appearance was such, I'd have sworn what I heard her say was What have you done with my hair?

Innocently I said I thought I'd told her, I was having my hair cut?

"Cut."

Meaning, what an understatement!

I was thirty-one years old. Mom was fifty-six. We'd been having these exchanges for almost three decades. You'd have thought we were both accustomed to them by now, but we didn't seem to be. I could feel Mom's quickened heartbeat like my own.

This time, the situation was pretty tame. I hadn't run away from home as I'd done as a teenager, or, worse yet, returned home abruptly and unexpectedly from college refusing to explain why. I hadn't announced that I was engaged to a young man my parents scarcely knew, nor even that I'd broken off the engagement. (Twice. Two very different young men.) I hadn't quit my current job in a succession of boring jobs. Hadn't "gone off " with a not-quite-divorced man nor even by myself cross-country in a rattletrap Volkswagen van to backpack in the Grand Tetons, in Idaho. All I'd done was have my hair cut punk-spiky style and darkened to a shade of inky-maroon that, in certain lights, glared iridescent. No strand of hair longer than one inch, shaved at the sides and back of my head. You could say this was a chic-druggie look of another era or you could say that I looked like someone who'd stuck her finger into an electric socket.

Mom smiled bravely. It was Mother's Day after all, there were guests in the other room. Wasn't Gwen Eaton known in Mt. Ephraim, New York, in the Chautauqua Valley seventy miles south of Lake Ontario, as uncomplaining, unself-pitying, good-natured and good-hearted and indefatigably optimistic?

Hadn't her high school nickname been Feather?

"Well, Nikki! You'd be a beauty, no matter if you were bald."

Rising now on her tiptoes to give me a belated hug. Just a little harder than ordinary, to signal how she loved me even more, because I was a trial to her.

Continues...


Excerpted from Missing Mom by Joyce Oates Copyright © 2005 by Joyce Oates.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 20 )
Rating Distribution

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(9)

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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2008

    One of her best!

    I am a huge Oates fan--I've read almost all of her books--and can honestly say that this is one of her best. It ranks up there with We Were the Mulvaneys, Them, The Falls, and Blonde. What surprised me were the refreshingly ordinary characters and the entirely believable narrative. Somehow, one always expects extremes in Oates' stories and this one is simply and beautifully about a daughter suffering the loss of her mom. It felt like a really personal story. I highly recommend it.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 13, 2009

    False advertising, in a way unfair to men

    Between the title and the cover, it is easy to see this book as just slightly heavier-than-usual chick-lit fare. Which would be a bummer, because the literary-minded man would be missing a good and touching novel by a prolific but quality writer. This book is my introduction to Oates, whom I only previously read in short story anthologies. I loved it. It might be because I have lost my mother (okay, ten years ago, but it still hurts) and can relate to many of the feelings and actions described here. I know of the debate as to how "great" Oates may be, and this book is not swimming with a lot of the "big themes" that many serious literature buffs (including myself) like in their "great writers." But I do harbor a soft spot in my reading list and heart for novelists that do tackle the personal issues, like Anne Tyler and Oates, and do it so well. If they translated better to the big screen, they might be better known, so until then, guys like me will just have to secretly peek over at Oprah's list once in a while and find books like this that moves a reader without getting overly sappy--as Oprah's list can sometimes get. (Sorry, ladies.)

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2005

    Good read

    In Missing Mom, Oates introduced us to an ordinary woman, Gwen Eaton, a 56-year-old housewife in Mount Ephraim, N.Y. Gwen's untimely death in a suburban small town impacts the lives of many, most especially her two grown daughters, Nikki and Clare. Even though this is fiction, I absolutely identified with the experiences of Nikki and Clare as they dealt with the loss of their mother. I've read other books by this author and I actually thought this was better than her previous works.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2005

    The title says it all

    Having lost my mom some years ago, I totally identified with some of the comments made in this book. To me, this is the best book among the last few that Joyce Carol Oates has written. She is an amazing writer to me. She captures the human condition perfectly.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2013

    Good

    Good

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2013

    Fart

    Poop :P

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2013

    Excellent! But why so many reviews populated by

    some kind of chat room weirdos is beyond me. People, for heavens sake,get a life.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 24, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    NO stars

    I just couldn't get into the book. Didn't get too far in the book before I decided that the style and story just wasn't for me. Glad I didn't spend money on it but maybe I will consider giving it another chance...one day.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2012

    Rp

    Ok

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2012

    Patrick

    Cool gtg

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2012

    Have not read yet should i

    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!....
    ?...

    0 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 9, 2012

    A Must Read

    Joyce Carol Oates never disappoints. Her characters are so real life you feel you are living her story. I am an avid reader and I would have to say she is one of my favorite authors.

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    Posted March 9, 2011

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