For me, you can keep the mystery of your Pynchons and Salingers. I’m much more taken by Oates–a writer both prolific and elusive. She’s been hiding in plain sight for over half a century now and not only is her output so mind-bogglingly prolific that it’s mentioned by most reviewers (including me), the sheer scope of her imagination and intellect is breathtaking. From the dark, awarding winning novels she is best known for to collections of criticism, essays, poetry, drama and children’s books we should have a good sense of who is by now.
Yet the sheer range of her subject matter serves to hide the nature of the author herself. To paraphrase Whitman, this is one writer who does indeed “contain multitudes.” So it was a truly something new to get A Widow’s Story, the compressed and intense look at her life after her husband’s death. This new memoir is less compressed but no less interesting: a collection of 28 pieces, looking back at her childhood in rural Western New York. It recalls the romance of childhood, the harsh lessons of farm life, and how those experiences forever colored her experience.
As you might expect, this will be widely covered and will include interviews on NPR’s Morning Edition and Diane Rehm. (I’ll be podcasting!)
“‘I scarcely remember myself as a child. Only as an eye, an ear, a ceaselessly inquisitive center of consciousness,’ Oates admits, and so this memoir of her early life strings together the recollections that most deeply impressed her consciousness. They reveal an intensely shy, nervous, self-admittedly secretive child, as easily moved to terror as to wonder at the formative mysteries of childhood: the loss of a beloved pet chicken and later a grandfather, the sense of living in a landscape and a family haunted by violence, the acquisition of a library card and the discovery that ‘adult writing was a form of wisdom and power.’….[W]hen Oates falls into her narrative strengths—an alert eye for detail, an atmosphere suffused with dread and apprehension, an enormous sympathy for her characters—the pieces become stunning…[U]ltimately insightful map to the formation of a writer who understands ‘how deeply mysterious the ‘familiar’ really is.’”
— Publisher Weekly
The Lost Landscape: A Writer’s Coming of Age (9780062408679) by Joyce Carol Oates. $27.99 hardcover. 9/8/15 on sale.