The pseudonymous Smith's third elegant and sensational thriller ( Lives of the Twins; Soul/Mate ) is set in an affluent Connecticut suburb whose cultural hub is its conservatory of music. Here pianist Maggie Blackburn--34, lonely, diffident, austerely beautiful in her coronet of silver-blond braids--performs and teaches, selflessly devoted to her students. After the fall term is launched at a bibulously festive faculty party with a guest list of eccentrics, the predatory Pulitzer-winning composer-in-residence, aging, gay ``glamorous-thuggish'' Rolfe Christensen, rapes graduate student Brendan Bauer, a stammering, naive ex-seminarian. Outraged Maggie befriends Brendan, who is accused of murdering Christensen via a pre-Christmas gift box of lethally laced chocolates. When the bondage/knifing murder of another gay colleague further implicates Brendan, Maggie turns sleuth. The plot fuses the lurid and literary to focus on such issues as sexual harassment, styles of masculinity, the menace of AIDS. The romantic angle is gratifying, as is the bounty of musical imagery. The gifted Rosamond Smith is Joyce Carol Oates. (July)
The rape of a male graduate student by Rolf Christensen, a famous composer and faculty member, follows a cocktail party given by Maggie Blackburn, director of graduate music education at Curtis Institute of Music in Forest Park, Connecticut. When Brendan Bauer brings charges against Christensen, the less-than-courageous ethics committee generates a cover-up. Someone is out to get Christensen, however, and Bauer seems to be the only suspect. Then Maggie begins an investigation of her own. The story moves at a languid pace through the details of Maggie's life to her championing of her friend. Nemesis is hard to classify. It is not a true ``detection'' mystery, as the author hides everything from the reader; it is not completely satisfying as a novel, since the characters are undeveloped. Yet it is an intriguing tale of life in a music conservatory set within a counterplot of what happens to people when they are touched by evil. Smith is the pseudonym of Joyce Carol Oates.--Ed.-- Jo Ann Vicarel, Cleveland Heights-University Heights, P.L., Ohio
In a prolific and varied oeuvre that ranges over essays, plays, criticism, and several genres of fiction, Joyce Carol Oates has proved herself one of the most influential and important storytellers in the literary world.
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.