My Heart Laid Bare

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Overview

My Heart Laid Bare is a striking departure for Joyce Carol Oates: a sweeping epic novel of the fortunes and misfortunes of a family of enterprising confidence artists in 19th-century America. Mythic in scope, it is Oates' most daring work yet -- a stunning tale of crime and transgression, and of a mysterious and tragic woman whose secret history resonates from one century to another -- with profound moral consequences.
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Overview

My Heart Laid Bare is a striking departure for Joyce Carol Oates: a sweeping epic novel of the fortunes and misfortunes of a family of enterprising confidence artists in 19th-century America. Mythic in scope, it is Oates' most daring work yet -- a stunning tale of crime and transgression, and of a mysterious and tragic woman whose secret history resonates from one century to another -- with profound moral consequences.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
June 1998

"Intriguing and bitingly ironic.... It's impossible to resist the pull of Oates' lush narrative.... Unforgettable." —Publishers Weekly

"Oates's most inventive and entertaining yet.... Irresistibly comic.... One of the most inviting products of Oates's incomparably rich imagination." —Kirkus Reviews

Joyce Carol Oates has been hailed as "a fearless writer...with impossibly lush and dead-on imaginative power" (Los Angeles Times Book Review). Her unwavering curiosity about human nature has been described as "one of the great artistic forces of our time" (The Nation). The New York Times reports: "What keeps us coming back to Oates country is her uncanny gift of making the page a window, with something happening on the other side that we'd swear was life itself."

In My Heart Laid Bare, Oates embarks on a striking, surprising new direction: This is a sweeping, mythical novel of the fortunes and misfortunes of a family of enterprising con artists in 19th-century America. Epic in scope, it is Oates's most daring work yet, a stunning tale of crime and transgression, and of a mysterious and tragic woman whose secret history ricochets from one century to another with profound moral consequences.

The novel begins in 1891. The man is Abraham Licht, a confidence man who has arrived in the marshy environs of Old Muirkirk, the site of a lost colony of Dutch settlers who vanished without a trace in the 1640s. Abraham's mission is to establish his criminal dynasty. Thurston and Harwood, his two sons, emulatetheirdashing father, only to be drawn into heinous murder. Beautiful Millicent, her father's equal in the Game, is his superior in the more dangerous game of family control. Elisha, the adopted son, Abraham's true heir in talent and ambition, has been cruelly banished from his father's love.

Each of Licht's offspring will strike out on his or her own, taking the story to regions and realms as diverse as the political backrooms of Washington, D.C., the Atlantic City of the Gilded Age, the rough-and-tumble of the western frontier, Carnegie Hall, and Harlem in the '20s and '30s. The sinister Abraham Licht will live to see the dark, unholy secrets of the soul bared at last, as brother turns against brother, lover against lover, blood against blood.

My Heart Laid Bare presents a brand-new version of American history in which the sins of one century resonate in the next, with dramatic consequences. It is a sumptuous, sinuous novel of brilliant invention with a mesmerizing narrative voice. At the center is an unforgettable family, as strongly possessed of the power to deceive as they are of the power to love.

Elizabeth Judd

In My Heart Laid Bare, Joyce Carol Oates' writing style cries out for parody. Oates has an unchecked passion for italics, repetition of sounds and phrases, capriciously placed quotation marks and bizarre, parenthetical asides. Exclamation points hover mid-sentence, as the grande dame of prolific prose -- lucky writer! -- pulls out all the stops to make her story dramatic, daring, deathless. Still, My Heart Laid Bare is "more" entertaining and spirited than many of the restrained, elegant works of Oates' peers (poor mortals! mortal mortals!).

Each of the early vignettes, which are set in upstate New York in 1891, introduces a different cast of characters but plays out an identical plot line: An upper-class poseur, grasping for power, money or position, is gulled by an insider who isn't what he or she seems. Behind every con is one of the shape-shifting Lichts, a family of criminals who excel at bilking others by means of biblical quotes, an endless parade of new identities and indoctrination into "The Game," a carefully honed creed of personal growth through stealing. Patriarch Abraham Licht says it this way: "Crime? Then complicity. Complicity? Then no crime."

The novel owes its energy to Oates' gift for larger than life scene-writing. No expression is too hyperbolic for the Lichts, especially Abraham's daughter Millicent, whose hauteur borders on the farcical. When a schoolgirl gushes over Millicent's beauty, calling her a Greek god, the child responds by saying: "Please! -- it is all we have to do, being mortal." The Lichts have their antecedents in Shakespeare; Abraham is a benighted figure, a Richard III or Lear, whose cruelty toward others is mitigated by his deep love for his children. But the family destiny is pure Greek tragedy. From the moment Abraham tells one child, "You are my son; you are my creation," the reader knows that hundreds of pages of betrayal lie ahead.

Although Oates has written a lively and diverting saga, she also hints at larger historical themes in portraying the Lichts' undoing as a uniquely American fall. When Abraham is asked to censure his children for their misdeeds, he turns a blind eye, saying: "'Memory is not an American predilection. Where it cripples action, it's wise to forgo the past.'" Later, Abraham invokes William James' notion that "'we are as many 'selves' as there are individuals who know us" to justify a life of deceit. By the end of the novel, Oates' overheated prose seems oddly fitting for a dark comedy about our national preoccupation with self-invention. -- Salon

Sarah Kerr
Oates's accomplishment here, it seems to me, is to construct a total system, an original way of looking at American history that comments interestingly on many levels of American life. --New York Times Book Review
Megan Harlan
. . .highly diverting. . . .Through cunning explorations of American capitalism, criminal aptitude, and family dynamics, Oates freates a rollicking, epochal read. —Entertainment Weekly
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Is there a rogue gene? Such is the intriguing premise of Oates's frisky and bitingly ironic 28th novel (after What I Lived For), in which a dynasty of confidence artists is launched by a convicted felon in 18th-century London. The scene then shifts to western New York in 1909, when the mysterious Dr. Washburn Frelicht is forced at gunpoint to surrender his racetrack winnings. Meanwhile, not far away, a penniless and pregnant young woman extorts money from her dead lover's family. Frelicht (aka Abraham Licht, consummate con man) knows the robber is Elisha, the black boy he adopted in infancy; the supposedly unfortunate young woman is Licht's daughter Millicent. Enter Licht's biological son Thurston, engaged to marry a wealthy widow, and his evil brother Harwood, who wants a piece of the action. Harwood murders the widow and flees, leaving his brother to answer for the crime. Banished to Colorado by his father, Harwood meets his mirror image in a wealthy heir from Philadelphia who yearns to reaffirm his manhood in the wilderness. Harwood obliges and the heir disappears, only to be reborn in the biggest scam of all. When Millicent falls for Elisha, Abe disowns the young man. Bitter and resentful, Elisha revolts against his white upbringing and becomes a radical. Gradually, the three mothers of Abe's assorted children abandon him, even as he bemoans the fact that his youngest son, a musical prodigy of gentle temperament, is ill-suited for the Game. Not surprisingly, this complex fabrication has its minor pitfalls: Abe has an infuriating habit of talking to himself, aliases fly faster than speeding bullets and the plot's many twists occasionally confuse. Still, it's impossible to resist the pull of Oates' lush narrative. Abraham Licht is unforgettable. As chief orchestrator of a family's misbehaviors, he becomes the quintessential silver fox, a rogue to remember.
Library Journal
For Abraham Licht, whether he is creating the society for the Reclamation and Restoration of Napoleon Bonaparte, the Parris Clinic, or any other of his several schemes to get rich, the Game is a philosophy of life. Living in an old church in upstate New York on the edge of a swamp where Sarah Licht disappeared in 1640 and where ghosts, strange fruit, and mysterious sounds exist, Abraham raises his family, teaching his four older children the rules, while recognizing that the two youngest are not for the Game. This dynasty of schemers is not to be, as their difficult relationship with their father force Abraham's offspring to transform their view of the Game. Following her early historical Gothic novels such as Bellefleur (LJ 7/80), Oates explores America's meeting the Fricks, Morgans, and Rockefellers while facing the Great War, the roaring Twenties, and the stock market crash. With a smooth, stylish narrative, she investigates the relationship between deception and morality and in the process paints an alternative vision of that period. Highly recommended for all libraries.
--Joshua Cohen, Mid-Hudson Library System, Poughkeepsie, NY
Library Journal
For Abraham Licht, whether he is creating the society for the Reclamation and Restoration of Napoleon Bonaparte, the Parris Clinic, or any other of his several schemes to get rich, the Game is a philosophy of life. Living in an old church in upstate New York on the edge of a swamp where Sarah Licht disappeared in 1640 and where ghosts, strange fruit, and mysterious sounds exist, Abraham raises his family, teaching his four older children the rules, while recognizing that the two youngest are not for the Game. This dynasty of schemers is not to be, as their difficult relationship with their father force Abraham's offspring to transform their view of the Game. Following her early historical Gothic novels such as Bellefleur (LJ 7/80), Oates explores America's meeting the Fricks, Morgans, and Rockefellers while facing the Great War, the roaring Twenties, and the stock market crash. With a smooth, stylish narrative, she investigates the relationship between deception and morality and in the process paints an alternative vision of that period. Highly recommended for all libraries.
--Joshua Cohen, Mid-Hudson Library System, Poughkeepsie, NY
The Nation
Oates's unblinking curiosity about human nature is one of the great artistic forces of our time.
Megan Harlan
. . .highly diverting. . . .Through cunning explorations of American capitalism, criminal aptitude, and family dynamics, Oates freates a rollicking, epochal read. --Entertainment Weekly
Washington Post
Will take you on a dark and wild ride.
San Francisco Chronicle
Dazzling...Oates at her most playful and inventive.
Kirkus Reviews
Oates's 28th novel, another installment in the "Gothic Quintet" that includes such energetic faux romances as Bellefleur (1980) and Mysteries of Winterthurn (1984), is one of her most inventive and entertaining yet. The story is a surprisingly deft allegory of the formation and fortunes of the American republic, spanning three centuries and the history of a family of resourceful scalawags who embody the seductive charm and adroit criminality of their inchoate country as it shapes its own destiny. The foreground actions include the execution of "outlaw" lady's maid Sarah Wilcox and a fortune won at the racetrackþwhich is later stolen, then later still makes Sarah's descendants rich. Their dominant member is Abraham Licht, an urbane confidence man whose love of creating labyrinthine swindles ("The Game," in his parlance) takes such forms as a larcenous "Society for the Reclamation and Restoration of E. Auguste Napoleon Bonaparte" (i.e., the former emperor's unthroned son) and his imposture of Dr. Moses Liebknecht, a practitioner of "Autogenic Self-Mastery" who "treats," romances, and weds a wealthy sanatorium patient. Abraham's duplicitous proclivities are inherited, to varying degrees, by his sons Thurston (an accidental murderer), Harwood (a calculating one who, furthermore, assumes his victim's identity), and Darian (a gifted musician who will fall in love with his stepmother), as well as their black adopted brother Elisha, who will become a charismatic black leader, and Abraham's eldest daughter Millicent, Elisha's lover and a trickster scarcely inferior to her progenitor. Oates juggles all this high-concept hugger-mugger expertly, springing one amusing narrativesurprise after another while also working an impressive amount of U.S. history into the fabric of her extravagantly colorful characters' adventures. Nor is her manifest (though never obtrusive) theme neglected: This being a persuasive vision of an America founded on violence, miscegenation, and rapacious self-interest. That the result is also irresistibly comic is so much frosting on a sumptuous cake and one of the most inviting products of Oates's incomparably rich imagination.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452280069
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 7/28/1999
  • Pages: 544
  • Product dimensions: 5.24 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 1.19 (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.

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

Table of Contents

Prologue: The Princess Who Died in Old Muirkirk 1
Part I
"Midnight Sun" 9
"The Lass of Aviemore" 26
"A Bird in a Gilded Cage" 46
In Old Muirkirk 64
"In Adam's Fall" 73
The Pilgrim 80
The Forbidden 83
The Catechism of Abraham Licht 99
"The Mark of Cain" 101
The Mute 108
The Grieving Father 110
The Fate of "Christopher Schoenlicht" 127
"Little Moses" 135
"Gaily Through Life I Wander" 150
"Nigger!" 166
Secret Music 169
The Desperate Man 172
The English Reformer in America 176
The Condemned Man 181
TheGuilty Lovers 186
The Ingrate Son 187
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Interviews & Essays

On Monday, June 15th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Joyce Carol Oates to discuss MY HEART LAID BARE.


Moderator: Good evening, Joyce Carol Oates. We are so pleased you could join us to discuss your new novel, MY HEART LAID BARE. Is this your first online interview?

Joyce Carol Oates: Yes. I am very happy to be doing it.


Sherrie from Brooklyn: I have read many of your horror novels. MY HEART LAID BARE is a historical novel -- a real departure for you. What precipitated this change? Did you like this new form?

Joyce Carol Oates: I very much liked the new form. I found it challenging and an opportunity to do some very exciting research, particularly on classic confidence games in American history. I don't, however, think of it as a departure but thematically and stylistically related to my other long novels, which are BELLEFLEUR, A BLOODSMOOR ROMANCE, and MYSTERIES OF WINTERTHURN. There are elements of horror and "gothic" in all these novels.


Stephanie from Pittsburgh, PA: I understand this novel is set in 19th-century America. Why did you choose this era for a novel of con artists and crime?

Joyce Carol Oates: The novel begins in the 1880s and ends in the 1930s, and much of the confidence crimes took place in 1920s. It was a wide-open, rip-roaring era when it was often very difficult to distinguish criminals from businessman. I think of the Licht family as very enterprising, quintessential Americans living by their wits, rebellious and sometimes transgressing the law. I think of America as a kind of frontier society filled with adventures until about the 1930s, when the economy collapsed and we lost our confidence as a nation.


Scott from Princeton, NJ: I have read a few chapters of the book and love it so far! What exactly is the Game?

Joyce Carol Oates: The Game is a strategy of manipulating other people -- as dealing with others -- as if they were your enemy. The criminal naturally deals with others as if they were enemies, but in the novel the younger Licht children repudiate this philosophy. The Game is a Darwinian principal transformed into practice. The 1890s was a time in which social Darwinism was eagerly embraced. A kind of capitalist cannibalism.


Pepsi Freund from Yaphank: What is your concept of God, and do you believe there is a God? And how has this belief, if you have it, charged or changed your point of view in terms of your characters and their interactions?

Joyce Carol Oates: The question is very complex and would involve a long time to answer. I think of God as fundamentally a concept in the human brain about which, by tradition, many clusters of meanings have accrued. Many of my characters do believe in God, or at least their concept of God, and a few have had vivid emotional and mystical experiences.


Reagan from Boyton Beach, FL: I noticed that in your book MY HEART LAID BARE, you pose questions to the reader every other line or so. I haven't read your other books, so I don't know if this is a stylistic trademark of yours, but why do do this? Thanks.

Joyce Carol Oates: This is actually the characters in the novel posing questions to themselves. It is Abraham Licht questioning what he is doing. He is always plotting, so he asks these questions of himself. He is a person who is not happy unless he is involved in the plot. In that way, Licht is like me, who as a writer is most happy when I am creating plots.


Jose from New York City: You are extremely prolific. Do you keep a tight writing schedule? Are you working on more than one project -- whether it be play, novel, poetry -- at a time?

Joyce Carol Oates: I focus very intensely on one project at a time. When I write a novel, I basically immerse myself. I try to work every day, but some days I work more productively than others. On days that I do not sit down and write, I am thinking about what I will write -- and these days are sometimes more important. Writing depends upon intense daydreaming. You have to plot things out in your imagination before you can write them. I try to envision what I write as a kind of movie in my head.


Bryce Warren from Independence, KY: You are my favorite author of all time! Some day the critics will esteem you as a permanent classic. Why did MY HEART LAID BARE take so long to get published? Will the next gothic novel come out sooner? Is Merchant/Ivory still planning on filming SOLSTICE? What advice do you have for writers whose style is "different" and not understood by many (as far as taking the punches and finding readership and publishers)? Thanks for your time. And thank you for all of your wonderful books. Of all the authors I've read, your voice speaks the loudest to me.

Joyce Carol Oates: I originally wrote MY HEART LAID BARE in the middle 1980s. Then I set it aside about two years ago, [and then] I rewrote it. I think I wanted it to get deeper and more profound over a period of time. I kept doing research and adding notes to the draft that I had, and I am very happy that I did that. The next gothic novel is THE CROSSWICKS HORROR and will probably come out within five years. Again, I have a draft I intend to completely rewrite. The last I have heard, plans are to film SOLSTICE in Europe, but I am no longer involved actively. My general advice to writers is to remain true to your own vision.


Paul from New York City: Does Abraham Licht resemble any great criminals of history, or did you conjure him up entirely from your imagination? Great character, by the way!

Joyce Carol Oates: Basically he is a work of imagination. Some of his philosophical ideas are my own. He is like a mastermind novelist creating any number of scenarios.


Cynthia Burns from Washington, D.C.: The significance of the title MY HEART LAID BARE, I think, lies in your opening quote by Edgar Allan Poe. And Licht's quest for immortality is the basis of the Game, I assume. Am I on the right trail here? Why did you include this quote?

Joyce Carol Oates: That's correct. MY HEART LAID BARE is the title of his posthumous journal. He is trying for a kind of immortality, but actually it will be in his children.It is a beautiful quote. I have always been fascinated by it. Edgar Allan Poe never wrote from the heart or in a realistic mode. Everything Poe wrote in fiction was in the gothic mode, so he never did what he suggests in the epigraph.


Tracey from Athens, GA: I like how you kept me guessing at the beginning of this novel -- who are these characters, and how do they relate to each other? Was this intention to keep a cloud of mystery going so you could lay out the Game?

Joyce Carol Oates: Yes, it was. Once you get to about chapter four, it all becomes very clear. I think of life itself as mysterious, and we have to keep pushing onward to see what is staring us in the face.


Chelsea Hall from Miami, Florida: Why did you write this book? What is it about? What made you become a writer? Do you have any sisters and brothers? Please do not write back to me so advanced -- I am only 11.

Joyce Carol Oates: I have one sister and one brother and I became a writer because I love to tell stories.


Clint Witchalls from Brixton, London: I really enjoyed your short story "A Woman Is Born to Bleed." Where did you get the idea for the story?

Joyce Carol Oates: It is part of a novel called MAN CRAZY, and this story is a section about the experience of the young girl, Ingrid. The idea for Ingrid's character and her life came partly from experience and partly from my knowledge of the era.


Clark Wilson from Pine Mountain, Georgia: What is the most important advice you would give to a young, beginning writer?

Joyce Carol Oates: To read very widely and to listen to many people. To be as invisible as possible so that you can experience life.


Danilo from Massasoit Community College: I would like to know, what do the numbers in Arnold Friend's car from the short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" mean?

Joyce Carol Oates: It has an occult significance. Obviously you are not a satanist, or you would know.


Jennifer from Jacksonville, FL: This is not really related to MY HEART LAID BARE but to "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been." I have loved that story from the moment I first read it (1,000 or so reads ago)! I am puzzled though. Arnold Friend is An Old Fiend with a few letters omitted, right? And also, if that is true, then am I wrong in seeing an awful lot of Jesus imagery in that story? Are you leaving the story up to individual interpretation?

Joyce Carol Oates: The story is suffused with religious imagery, and it takes place on Sunday. There is imagery both of redemption and damnation. The essential thing is that the young girl's life on earth as she has known it is ending, and she must prepare herself for departure.Most writers try to guide individual interpretation by selection of imagery, if not outright statements. Most works of fiction do have meanings in the author's imagination, but we try not to impose them on our readers. As Emily Dickinson said, "Tell the truth but tell it slant."


Liam Ryan from Massasoit Community College: Does A. Friend represent the devil?

Joyce Carol Oates: Well, certainly there is demonic imagery in him, but I don't necessarily intend him to be the devil.


Anthony Risser from rissera@yahoo.com: Given the diversity of your interests and some of your earlier works on boxing, do you see that there is any "story" to tell (in some larger or more basically human symbolic sense) in the epic of Michael Jordan and his teammates over the past decade? He seems like someone for whom Homer could tell a fine story. I think you would be the contemporary writer to formulate and tell that story. What do you think?

Joyce Carol Oates: That is a fascinating question. That is really interesting. I don't know that much about Michael Jordan, so it will fall to maybe you, Anthony Risser, to tell his epic story.


Students at Mass. Community College from comp. class: Although we look forward to reading and enjoying MY HEART LAID BARE soon, we are currently discussing "Where Are You Going..." Can we please ask a question about that story? If would be very valuable to the understanding of the author and the continuation of literary studies.... What influence can students find in the literary work "Where Are You Going..." that reflects the dedication to Dylan?

Joyce Carol Oates: The story was written at a time when a song by Bob Dylan called "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" was popular. This song is a surreal childlike ballad with ominous overtones. It seems to be presaging death.


David from Minneapolis: Human personality doesn't seem to be evolving very quickly from one century to the next. Will our violent tendencies ultimately destroy the entire planet?

Joyce Carol Oates: It is impossible to foresee the future. What we know from history is that there has been continuous warfare throughout the world. We would hope that the world's leaders could guide man's destiny more successfully than they have in the past.


Yasmina Kasmi Bakkali from France (Toulouse): Hello, I was looking forward to writing you, indeed. My name is Yasmina, living in France, and I am reading a Ph.D. in stylistics and narratology about your short stories "The Poisoned Kiss" and "The Assignation." I am studying the themes of ambiguity and doubles, comprising the polyphonic phenomenon, so the question is about the note you've written in the preface of "The Poisoned Kiss," claiming that it is a translation of Fernandes Di Briao. I think that it is a supercherie -- you've tried to deceive the reader, thrusting him into two worlds imaginary/reality, since you've created a double author, an impolite author, Fernandes Di Briao, and the real one, yourself. Could you tell me which literary background influenced you (if there was any influence) in the making of this note? I would be glad, if possible, to keep in touch with you for further information. Yours sincerely, Yasmina Kasmi Bakkali (phias@infonie.fr). P.S. Reading your short stories was really an important experience for me. Merci encore!

Joyce Carol Oates: Fernandes was the symbol of my own imagination at that time in my life; he was like a magician or a ventriloquist. He seemed to be translating into stories ideas in my mind that had no form. I was surprised to discover how different he was from me in our personal lives. Though we have much in common, ultimately we are very different. This was to me the profound and deeply mysterious experience which I have never quite understood. It took place over 20 years ago. Maybe your insights will illuminate the mystery for me.


Matt from New York City: I know you won a Stoker Award for best horror fiction. Is "horror" a term you wouldn't want associated with your work?

Joyce Carol Oates: Oh, not at all. I love horror fiction. And I have been reading it since the age of 12. My first horror writers were Edgar Allan Poe and Bram Stroker. To me the horror genre or gothic is a realm of pure imagination unrestrained by the so-called laws of reality or probability.


Peter from Williamsburg, VA: Who are some of your greatest literary influences? Any favorite contemporary authors? Thanks for all the novels. Keep writing!

Joyce Carol Oates: Certainly Emily Dickinson in a spiritual sense. Walt Whitman, James Joyce, Anton Chekhov, Emily Brontë, Dostoevsky, and Kafka. I can't name contemporaries because so many of them are my friends, and I don't want to omit anyone.


Emily from Alexandria, VA: Do your books reflect your own fears, horrors, dark experiences? How do you conjure up your horror tales?

Joyce Carol Oates: Some of the experiences in my writing are based on emotional experiences of my own but not literal. I think of myself as a voice of my time and place.


Scott from New York City: Do you write under a pseudonym for mystery books? Is so, what is it, and why do you use it?

Joyce Carol Oates: My pseudonym is Rosamond Smith. I use it because it is a different voice for me, and the Rosamond Smith novels are suspense-horror mysteries which have a more cinematic quality to them than my other books.


Melanie from San Francisco: I just read the San Francisco Chronicle review of your book, and it said that MY HEART LAID BARE is "a book that could well appeal to readers outside the usual coterie of Oates fans." Do you agree? Was this your intention? Do you read your reviews?

Joyce Carol Oates: I read some reviews, yes. I haven't read this one. I had hoped it would reach a wide readership because it is basically a novel with many stories in it -- it has a broad historical canvas.


Sarah from Yarmouth, ME: Someone told me that you are coming out with a children's book next fall. Is this true? What age group is it for? What inspired you to write a kid's book?

Joyce Carol Oates: It is for children up to about age seven. It is called COME MEET MUFFIN! (Muffin is a very lovable cat.) I was inspired to write about my own cat and a little girl who finds this lost kitten by the side of the road and brings him home. And this is what actually happened to my own cat, Muffin. This book has beautiful paintings by an artist named Mark Graham.


Moderator: Thank you for joining us this evening, Joyce Carol Oates. It has been a pleasure chatting with you, and we hope you will join us again with your next book. Before you go, any closing comments to your online readers?

Joyce Carol Oates: Thank you enormously for these wonderful questions. They have been provocative and very rewarding!


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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2000

    Amusing, sneaky and of course, slightly twisted

    This novel is an adventure. It is about a family of grifters who go through life conning the world and paying the inevitable price(s). There's a little love and incest thrown in and racial identity is also a theme. The characters each have their own sense of superiority over the world and have honed their own strengths. They are fierce and loathsome except that you love them so much.

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