I'll Take You There

I'll Take You There

by Joyce Carol Oates


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060501181
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/16/2003
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 404,780
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.68(d)

About 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 several times 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 Falls, which won the 2005 Prix Femina. Her most recent novel is A Book of American Martyrs. 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.


Princeton, New Jersey

Date of Birth:

June 16, 1938

Place of Birth:

Lockport, New York


B.A., Syracuse University, 1960; M.A., University of Wisconsin, 1961

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Every substance is necessarily infinite.
Spinoza, Ethics

In those days in the early Sixties we were not women yet but girls. This was, without irony, perceived as our advantage.

I am thinking of the house on a prominent hill of a hilly and wind-ravaged university campus in upstate New York in which I lived for five wretched months when I was nineteen years old, unraveling among strangers like one of my cheap orlon sweaters. I am thinking of how in this house there were forbidden areas and forbidden acts pertaining to these areas. Some had to do with the sacred rituals of Kappa Gamma Pi (these very words a sacred utterance, once you were initiated into their meaning) and some had to do with the sorority's British-born housemother, Mrs. Agnes Thayer.

They would claim that I destroyed Mrs. Thayer. Pushed her over the edge which makes me think of an actual cliff, a precipice, and Mrs. Thayer falling by some ghostly action of my flailing arms. Yet others would claim that Mrs. Thayer destroyed me.

The Kappa Gamma Pi house! The address was 91 University Place, Syracuse, New York. It was a massive cube of three floors in that long-ago architectural style known as neo-Classic; made of heavy dusky-pink-pewter limestone like ancient treasure hauled from the depths of the sea. Oh, if you could see it! If you could see it with my eyes. The looming ivy-covered facade and in the perpetual Syracuse wind the individual ivy leaves shivering and rippling like thoughts. Insatiable questions. Why? why? why? The lofty portico and four tall graceful white columns of the kind called Doric, smooth and featureless as telephonepoles. The house was located at the far, northern end of University Place, a quarter-mile from Erie Hall, the granite administration building that was the oldest building on the university campus. University Place itself was a wide boulevard with parkland as a median, slowly dying yet still elegant elms. Walking from the Kappa house to the university campus on the worst winter mornings was like climbing the side of a mountain, the incline was so steep in places, sidewalks icy and treacherous so you were better off trudging across the brittle grass of lawns instead. Returning, mostly downhill, was less of a physical effort but could be treacherous, too. A half-block from the northern end of University Place the earth shifted as if in a cruel whim and there was a final steep hill to be climbed, an upward-jutting spit of land, at the top of which was the stately Kappa house with, above its portico, these mysterious symbols --

§ °

The Kappa Gamma Pi house, unlike most of the local fraternity and sorority houses, had a history. It was, in fact, "historic": it hadn't been constructed for the mere utilitarian purpose of being a Greek residence, but had once been a millionaire's home, a mansion, built in 1841 (as a plaque proudly noted) by a prominent Syracuse clockworks manufacturer and deeded to the newborn local chapter of the national sorority Kappa Gamma Pi at the death of an elderly-widow alumna in 1938. Her name sacred in our memories as Kappa alums would solemnly instruct us but her name has vanished from my memory, it's only the house I recall.

Before I was initiated into Kappa Gamma Pi in the second semester of my freshman year at the university, I would often walk far out of my way to pass the house from below; I was a pledge by this time, yet not a "sister"; I drifted lovesick and yearning gazing up at the somber, ivy-covered facade, at the tall white columns in my imagination so many more than four columns, five, six, ten columns! The floating letters § ° filled me with wonder, awe. For I did not yet know what they meant. Will I be a Kappa? I thought. I -- I! -- will be a Kappa. It didn't seem possible, yet it had to be possible, for how otherwise would I continue? I was possessed by the wayward passion of one to whom passion is unknown; denied, and thwarted; if falling in love had been a game, the object of the game would have been, to me, to resist; as in chess, you might sacrifice pawns in the service of your queen; your queen was your truest self, your virgin-self, inviolable; never would you give away your queen! And so I was one whose immune system had become defenseless before the assault of a virulent micro-organism invader. My eyes, misted with emotion, purposefully failed to take in the patina of grime on the limestone walls and on the columns, or the just perceptibly rotting, mossy slates of the roof, which, iridescent when wet, in rare, blinding sunshine, were so beautiful. Nor did I see the rust-tinctured network like veins or fossil trails imprinted in the limestone by English ivy that was dying in places, had been dying for years, and was withering away. There were more than twenty Greek houses on or near University Place, and Kappa Gamma Pi was neither the largest nor the most attractive. You could argue that it was the most dour, possibly even the ugliest of the houses, but, to me, such qualities suggested aristocratic hauteur, authority. To live in such a mansion and to be an initiate, a sister of Kappa Gamma Pi, would be, I knew, to be transformed.

I wondered if, at initiation, I would be given a secret Kappa name.

I didn't believe in fairy tales or in those ridiculous romances beginning Once upon a time. A fairy tale of a kind had prevailed at my birth and during my infancy but it had been a cruel, crude fairy tale in which the newborn baby isn't blessed but cursed. Yet I believed in Kappa Gamma Pi without question. I believed that such transformations were not only possible, but common. I believed that such transformations were not only possible, but inevitable.

I'll Take You There. Copyright © by Joyce Oates. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

I.The Penitent1
II.The Negro-Lover95
III.The Way Out241

Reading Group Guide

Most days I did not see Vernor. These were days so defined: as an insomniac night is defined by the absence of sleep, so these days of nullity and edginess were defined by the absence of Vernor Matheius.

Didn't I warn you: you don't love me. Don't even try to know me.

Because it can't be done. Knowing me.

Because identity is within. A man's self is within where the rest of you can't measure it. -- From I'll Take You There
Joyce Carol Oates' most recent novel is edgy, jagged, and succinct. Told by an unnamed narrator, I'll Take You There resonates with a hallucinogenic, dreamlike quality while it follows a young woman through a breakdown, a tormented love affair, a death vigil, and to the liberation of self.

Like a three-act play, the three sections of the novel move through conflict, climax, and resolution, beginning in a sorority house at Syracuse University. A bright scholarship student, a lonesome motherless girl from an upstate town, the narrator yearns to feel she belongs. When invited to become a Kappa Gamma Pi, she is jubilant, ignoring the obvious motives of her "sisters" who want her help in passing their courses. A sexual innocent among the experienced sorority girls and quickly identified as a misfit, she soon earns the enmity of the housemother, the formidable Mrs. Thayer . . . with disastrous consequences for them both.

Part Two tells of the narrator's relationship with an older black student in her ethics class. Infatuated with the heady words of Spinoza and Wittgenstein, and increasingly obsessed with the black man, she follows him, virtually stalks him, and finally makes contact with him. Inventinga name, Anellia, and changing the way she dresses -- transforming herself to become someone who will attract him -- the narrator begins to explore her sexuality, and his. But this is 1963, and she is soon labeled a "negro-lover" in an age of racial unrest. At the same time, anorexic, deeply troubled, and mentally fragile, the girl, turning twenty, begins to find her gifts as a writer . . . and some of her lover's secrets.

The first sentence in the final section reads: To show the fly the way out of the bottle? Break the bottle. Unexpected news will shatter the narrator's perceptions of her life, and send her racing across country trying to reach a figure out of her past before death claims him. There, in a surreal bedside vigil, she discovers the missing pieces of her life and the key to becoming whole.

A tightly worked gem of a book, I'll Take You There is a portrayal of a woman's inner reality and the development of identity, the ability to love, and the capacity to forgive. Beginning as a girl, ending as a woman, the narrator seeks to know herself and who she can someday be -- in a shimmering, seamless narrative that displays Joyce Carol Oates's sure hand at plying the sometimes disparate desires of mind and heart.

Questions for Discussion
  1. The narrator never reveals her own name. What do we know for sure about this girl? What events in her childhood have left her emotionally conflicted? Is everything she says the truth? What does she lie about?

  2. The first section of this novel evokes a Gothic romance: an old mansion, an aura of foreboding, a hidden secret in the housekeeper's room. How do the narrator's perceptions of her surroundings reflect her mental state? Is this kind of thinking typical of a teenage girl?

  3. What is the narrator's fascination with Mrs. Thayer? Why does she trespass in the housekeeper's rooms? What does she find?

  4. What attracts the narrator to Vernor Matheius? Do you think her brother Hendrick's words at the opening of Chapter Five -- "You! You are capable of any thing" -- are relevant to her choice of Vernor as the object of her desire? What attracts Vernor to her?

  5. The narrator wants Vernor to love her. She says she loves him. Do you think that the narrator's feelings are love? If so, how would you describe this love? What happens to her relationship with Vernor?

  6. The search for the missing father is a frequent theme in literature. Why? What has the absent father to do with our conception of ourselves? How has the narrator been affected by her relationship with her father? How does it change in the final section of the book?

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I'll Take You There 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Another beautifully written novel by Joyce Carol Oates. "I'll take you there" never hits a false note while exposing the strange, ambiguous, contradictory emotions that are the human condition. Whew!
pdebolt on LibraryThing 5 months ago
JCO introduces her readers to a fascinating woman in this novel. She is desperate to fit into almost any place that will have her; she seeks identity, companionship and a sense of belonging that has eluded her all of her life. As is often the case, our greatest strength may also be our greatest detriment. "Annelia's" intellectual pursuits and abilities lead her to seek definition through another character, Vernor, who uses and discards her just as her sorority did. I felt intense compassion for Annelia in her quest for friendship and belonging. Often the most vulnerable among us are those most victtimized: which comes first? I found the philosophical quotations and discussions that weave through this book in increasing frequency to be an integral part of the exploration of the initiation into adulthood.
gwendolyndawson on LibraryThing 8 months ago
An unflinching view of the life of an obsessive college student describing her run-in with sorority life and her compulsive love for a black philosophy graduate student. Remarkable prose. Piercing and haunting.
thioviolight on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Here is another beautifully written story by Joyce Carol Oates. She perfectly captures the emotions and obsessions of the young protagonist, so that she is scarily easy to relate to. I see pieces of myself in "Anellia," and reading her experiences, I could empathize with her. Oates is a master in weaving stories!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a book club selection and no one in my book club could finish it. I thought it was horrible and I can read most anything. I wouldn't recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Interesting prose. Oates gets you to understand, subtley but clearly, the obsessions and borderlines between madness and sanity. Gives you a taste of life in the early 60's for women, especially women scholars. Why hasn't Oates won the Nobel Prize yet!?