Uncensored: Views and (Re)views


In thirty-eight diverse and provocative pieces, Joyce Carol Oates freely speaks her mind on some of literature's greatest modern authors. Writing at the top of her form, she offers lively opinions and cogent analysis of the works of Sylvia Plath, E. L. Doctorow, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Anne Tyler, to name but a few. With illuminating thoughts on the state of fiction and the future of the short story, Oates demonstrates once again that she is not only one of our most talented contemporary novelists but also a superb ...
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In thirty-eight diverse and provocative pieces, Joyce Carol Oates freely speaks her mind on some of literature's greatest modern authors. Writing at the top of her form, she offers lively opinions and cogent analysis of the works of Sylvia Plath, E. L. Doctorow, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Anne Tyler, to name but a few. With illuminating thoughts on the state of fiction and the future of the short story, Oates demonstrates once again that she is not only one of our most talented contemporary novelists but also a superb critic of serious literature as well-enthralling us with her art, her keen intelligence, and the incomparable power of her words.
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Editorial Reviews

A. O. Scott
There may be some books out there that Joyce Carol Oates hasn't written, but there don't seem to be very many that she hasn't read. She doesn't so much review individual books as assess entire bodies of work, sorting wheat from chaff and finding the point at which talent meets its limits. Among the objects of her careful, passionate scrutiny are Muriel Spark, Sylvia Plath, E. L. Doctorow and Anne Tyler, as well as a host of lesser-known novelists, memoirists and short-story writers.
— The New York Times
Library Journal
Oates (The Falls) prefaces this collection of 38 previously published book reviews by admonishing herself and questioning the role of the book critic. After 40 years of publishing original works and reviews, she has developed her own governing principle as a critic: to avoid reviewing books negatively, whenever possible. She justifies this stance by asking if in America we need to caution anyone against buying a book. With this in mind, the reader is then taken on a literary adventure, as the reviews analyze not only the works of a range of writers-from Anne Tyler to Muhammad Ali-but also the literary form from the short story to the memoir. These entries offer a broad literary history covering hundreds of titles. The reviews juxtapose each book with comparable works, leaving the reader with a reverence for Oates's immense knowledge of literature and a desire to read all the books mentioned. This collection shows a lovely appreciation for the value of a finely written book. Highly recommended for academic and larger public libraries.-Joyce Sparrow, Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas Cty., FL Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A seventh collection of the tireless Oates's industrious literary journalism: 38 recent reviews and essays. A grouping rather coyly titled "Not a Nice Person" includes understandably lukewarm considerations of the presently overrated Patricia Highsmith and the wildly uneven Sylvia Plath, a nicely reasoned defense of Willa Cather, and balanced assessments of Robert Penn Warren (whose classic All the King's Men is, Oates cogently argues, in its "restored text" version a deeply flawed novel) and Richard Yates (whose downbeat stories have a saving intensity that seems to elude her). Oates is a generous and perceptive commentator on "Our Contemporaries, Ourselves," notably E.L. Doctorow (whose City of God strike her as "that rarity in American fiction, a novel of ideas"); underrated British novelist Hilary Mantel; William Trevor (whose great strengths and frustrating weaknesses she deftly analyzes); and several writers (including Mary Karr, Alice Sebold, and Ann Patchett) of what Oates calls "the New Memoir: the memoir of sharply focused events, very often traumatic"). "Homages" include generic and only moderately interesting essays on Emily Bronte, Ernest Hemingway, and the painter Balthus-but also a welcome endorsement of Carson McCullers's brilliant early fiction and a summary meditation on the complex, often misunderstood figure of heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali. Several concluding "(Re)Visits" look backward at Hawthorne, Thoreau, emergent major novelist Don DeLillo, Tod Browning's 1931 film Dracula, and the aesthetic choices that shaped her own earlier books, lately revised and reissued. Throughout, Oates writes clearly and states cases persuasively-but does tend to burdenreviews of individual books and writers with needlessly detailed contextual information (e.g., informing us that Ed McBain/Evan Hunter "virtually created" the contemporary police procedural). Nonetheless, it's useful to know what good writers are reading and thinking about, and if Oates the critic doesn't always dazzle, she seldom disappoints. Agent: John Hawkins/John Hawkins & Associates
“Utterly at home in literature, she writes naturally about books with vigor and pleasure.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641771996
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/15/2005
  • Pages: 370
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.40 (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 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.

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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

Preface xi
I "Not a Nice Person" 1
Uncensored Sylvia Plath 3
"Restoring" Willie Stark 10
Catherizing Willa 28
Merciless Highsmith 39
"Glutton for Punishment": Richard Yates 51
"Not a Nice Person": Muriel Spark 57
II Our Contemporaries, Ourselves 63
Irish Elegy: William Trevor 65
"Our Cheapened Dreams": E. L. Doctorow 73
"Despair of Living": Anita Brookner 82
An Artist of the Floating World: Kazuo Ishiguro 88
"City of Light": Robert Drewe's The Shark Net 94
L.A. Noir: Michael Connelly 101
Ringworm Belt: Memoirs by Mary Karr 106
Evolutionary Fever: Andrea Barrett's Servants of the Map 116
"New Memoir": Alice Sebold's Lucky 126
Property Of: Valerie Martin's Property 131
Programmed by Art: David Lodge's Thinks... 142
Ghosts: Hilary Mantel 149
An Endangered Species: Short Stories 161
News from Everywhere: Short Stories 184
Mythmaking Realist: Pat Barker 204
Crazy for Love: Scott Spencer's A Ship Made of Paper 213
Amateurs: Anne Tyler's The Amateur Marriage 219
Memoirs of Crisis: Ann Patchett's Truth & Beauty 229
III Homages 235
Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights 237
"Tragic Mulatta": Clotel; or, The President's Daughter 248
Ernest Hemingway 259
"You Are the We of Me": Carson McCullers 272
Remembering Robert Lowell 281
"About Whom Nothing Is Known": Balthus 283
In the Ring and Out: Jack Johnson 291
Muhammad Ali: "The Greatest" 310
IV (Re)Visits 325
The Vampire's Secret: (Re)viewing Tod Browning's Dracula after Forty Years 327
Don DeLillo's Americana (1971) Revisited 339
Them Revisited 341
A Garden of Earthly Delights Revisited 348
On the Composition of I Lock My Door Upon Myself 355
Private Writings, Public Betrayals 359
Pilgrimage to Walden Pond: 1962, 2003 364
Acknowledgments 368
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First Chapter

Uncensored: Views & (Re)views

Chapter One

Uncensored Sylvia Plath

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
Edited by Karen V. Kukil

Who in February 1963 could have predicted, when a thirty-year-old American poet named Sylvia Plath committed suicide in London, distraught over the breakup of her marriage to the Yorkshire poet Ted Hughes, that Plath would quickly emerge as one of the most celebrated and controversial of postwar poets writing in English; and this in a golden era of poetry distinguished by such figures as Theodore Roethke, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Richard Wilbur, Allen Ginsberg, Anne Sexton, John Berryman, May Swenson, Adrienne Rich, as well as W. H. Auden and T. S. Eliot? At the time of Plath's premature death she had published a single volume of poems that had received only moderate attention, The Colossus (1960), and a first novel, the Salingeresque The Bell Jar (which appeared a month before her death in England, under the pseudonym "Victoria Lucas"), in addition to a number of strikingly bold poems in British and American magazines; her second, stronger volume of poems, Ariel, would not appear until 1965, by which time Plath's posthumous fame assured the book widespread attention, superlative reviews, and sales that would eventually make it one of the bestselling volumes of poetry to be published in England and America in the twentieth century. Plath's Collected Poems (1982), assembled and edited by Ted Hughes, would win a Pulitzer Prize.

"I am made, crudely, for success," Plath stated matter-of-factly in her journal in April 1958. Yet Plath could not have foreseen that her success would be almost entirely posthumous, and ironic: for, by killing herself impulsively and dying intestate, she delivered her precious fund of work, as well as her two young children Frieda and Nicholas, into the hands of her estranged husband, Hughes, and his proprietary sister Olywn, whom Plath had perceived as her enemies during the final, despairing weeks of her life. As her literary executor, Hughes had the power to publish what he wished of her work, or to publish it in radically "edited" (that is, expurgated) versions, like The Journals of Sylvia Plath (1982); or, if he wished, he might "lose" or even destroy it, as Hughes bluntly acknowledged he had done with two of the journal notebooks written during the last three years of Plath's life. As the surviving, perennially estranged husband, Hughes excised from Plath's journals what he called "nasty bits" and "intimacies," as he had eliminated from Ariel "some of the more personally aggressive poems," with the excuse that he wanted to spare their children further distress. This new, unabridged and unexpurgated edition of the journals assembled by Karen V. Kukil, assistant curator of rare books at Smith College, is "an exact and complete transcript of the twenty-three original manuscripts in the Sylvia Plath Collection," that suggests that the person Ted Hughes most wanted to spare from distress and exposure was himself.

The Unabridged Journals document, in obsessive and exhausting detail Plath's undergraduate years at Smith College and her term as a Fulbright fellow at Newnham College, Cambridge; her marriage to Ted Hughes; and two years of teaching and writing in Northampton, Massachusetts, and in Boston. With the exception of appendices and fragments from 1960 to 1962, the most vivid of which describes the birth of Plath's second child, Nicholas, in January 1962, the Journals break off abruptly in November 1959 as Plath and Hughes, their marriage undercut by Plath's suspicions of Hughes's infidelity, prepare to return to England to live. The last entry of the 1959 journal is enigmatic as a typical Plath poem: "A bad day. A bad time. State of mind most important for work. A blithe, itchy eager state where the poem itself, the story itself is supreme."

The most memorable of Sylvia Plath's incantatory poems, many of them written during the final, turbulent weeks of her life, read as if they've been chiseled, with a fine surgical instrument, out of Arctic ice.

Her language is taut and original; her strategy elliptical; such poems as "Lesbos," "The Munich Mannequins," "Paralytic," "Daddy" (Plath's most notorious poem), and "Edge" (Plath's last poem, written in February 1963), and the prescient "Death & Co." linger long in the memory, with the power of malevolent nursery rhymes. For Plath, "The blood jet is poetry," and readers who might know little of the poet's private life can nonetheless feel the authenticity of Plath's recurring emotions: hurt, bewilderment, rage, stoic calm, bitter resignation. Like the greatest of her predecessors, Emily Dickinson, Plath understood that poetic truth is best told slantwise, in as few words as possible.

By contrast, the journals are a tumult of words, and present a very mixed aesthetic experience for even the sympathetic reader. As a corrective to Hughes's "editing," a wholly unedited version of Plath's material would seem justified, in theory at least. Uncritical admirers of Plath will find much here that is fascinating. Other readers may find much that is fascinating and repellent in equal measure. Nor is the book easy to read, for its organization is eccentric: following journal entries for 1959, for instance, we revert jarringly back to a fragment for 1951, listed by the editor as Appendix I. It would have been more practical for scattered fragments to have been integrated chronologically with the journals. The Unabridged Journals is impossible to read without a reliable biography in tandem, for it lacks a simple chronology of Plath's life and the editor's headnotes are scattered and minimal.

Uncensored: Views & (Re)views. Copyright © by Joyce Oates. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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