“With Shuddering Fall” by Joyce Carol Oates

Genre:          Literary Gothicwith shuddering
Publisher:    Vanguard Press
Pub. Year:    1964

It was such a joy to find Joyce Carol Oates’ debut novel, “With Shuddering Fall.”  She is an all-time favorite author of mine.   Written in 1964, when the author was in her mid-twenties, the novel does not disappoint.   In a previous review of  “Night-Gaunts,” 2018, I wrote that a recurring theme in her work is the abuse of women, as portrayed in  “Do With Me What You Will,” 1973,  “We Were the Mulvaneys,” 2002, “The Gravedigger’s Daughter,” 2007, “Blonde: A Novel, 2009,” “The Sacrifice”, 2016.  I have read them all. They are flawless.  (I admit that when I read her memoir, “A Widow’s Story,” 2011, I was surprised to see how very ordinary her own marriage was).   So I wasn’t overly surprised to read that she began her career on a theme that we have come to associate with this author— a dark tale of two lovers entwined in sexual chaos.

On Oct. 25, 1964, the NY Times reviewed “Shuddering” and wrote of the female protagonist,Karen Herz at 17 is fragilely beautiful, and, as she herself recognizes, a little “queer in the head.” Her impulses are ungovernable; her whims must be carried to the limit.”   Her being queer in the head actually reads as if she may be autistic. If she is autistic, I did wonder if Karen embraces a twisted love affair as a means to feel. I have no idea if that is how Oates meant for her character to present, but that is my take on Karen.  Her born angry 30-year-old racecar driving lover is Shar.   He appears to have a death wish.  There is little doubt that his violent occupation symbolizes their relationship.  Karen marries Shar and things go from bad to worse.  Remember the Billie Holliday song “My Man?”  “My life is just despair, but I don’t care, He beats me, too, what can I do?” Well, that can be Karen singing about her man Shar.  But then again, Shar’s feelings about Karen are just as bizarre.  He literally cannot live with her (he never was a one-woman kind of guy) or without her (he stays since he is obsessed that he cannot bring her to sexual orgasm).  There is a constant struggle of brutality and indifference between them.

Although the story may revolve around sex her prose is never porn-like.  The Times reviewer also wrote, “This material is not as garish as it sounds _because of the clarity, grace, and intelligence of the writing.”  For Oates to pull this off at such a tender age is nothing short of amazing.  This does not mean “Shuddering” is flawless.  The story can wander off at certain times with unneeded subplots, which detract from the real tale.   She was still in the process of learning her craft.

So why does Oates’ unwavering theme on the abuse of women keep working for her?  I believe it is her willingness to unabashedly dive into the darkest cavity of the human psyche.  And let’s face it—such tales are fascinating to read.  She always seems to ask the question just what is insanity?  Aren’t we all just a little scared to find bits of ourselves in her unstable characters?  You might cringe, but Oates has a unique voice and is one hell of a storyteller.

Open link to purchase “With Shuddering Fall”

Find all my book reviews at:
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025
Leave Me Alone I am Reading & Reviewing: https://books6259.wordpress.com/
Twitter: Martie’s Book: https://twitter.com/NeesRecord

 

“Pure Hollywood” by Christine Schutt

 

Genre:         General FictionPure Hollywood
Publisher:   Grove Atlantic
Pub. Date:   March 13, 2018

I was in the mood for something light and fluffy.  I didn’t even read the book blurb before I began reading the story since the title sounds like a celebrity movie-star type of easy read.   I was way off.   Nevertheless, I am so glad that I found this author, Christine Schutt, and read this short story collection.   She writes eleven captivating tales portraying the darkness that the reader will find in the souls of her characters.  I am using the word “soul” for that is just what came to mind.  After I finished this collection, I googled the author and learned that her 2009 book, “All Souls” was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.  I sure did stumble into good luck discovering Christine Schutt.

“Pure Hollywood” is the title story.  It is more a novella than a short story.  A brother comes to aid his sister after the death of her much older husband.  Her stepchildren, who are her age, ensure that she will not inherit a cent.  The story goes back and forth in time between their dysfunctional childhood and the present.  It is very sad and telling to read that the brother actually calls the sister’s (for now) showy mansion as frosty as when they were children and living in their mothers’ car.  The siblings have a complicated relationship.  If I say more it would be a spoiler. Creepy read.

“Lucinda’s Garden” features a self-absorbed young couple.  They are lucky enough to be house-sitting a seaside cottage.   All day long they lay in the sun, swim in the ocean, smoke joints and are very much in love with themselves, more so than with each other.  They feel invincible, so they take many dangerous risks.   I disliked this couple till I liked them and repeated these thoughts throughout the tale.

“The Hedges” is the story that chilled me the most.  A young married couple vacations at a swanky beach resort.  They bring along their toddler son.  The other guests notice that the mother goes out of her way to ignore and not be around her child.  She leaves all vacation parenting to her husband while she sunbathes.  We know that the boy is sick, which makes him cranky.  Still, this does not excuse her to the others.  This reviewer thinks that although she loves her son, she does not possess maternal instincts.  She is not a frigid mother.  She is simply not a natural mom.   Maybe it is the mother in me that I found this one so very hard to read.

Schutt has a knack for creating unexpected plot twists.   More importantly, she will scare the bejesus out of you by bringing you inside the minds of her toxic characters.  You will recoil from their disturbing passions.  Some of the stories are extremely short.   Still, they carry a big punch, assaulting the reader.  I may not have read this author before, but I most certainly will be reading her again.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list
Leave Me Alone I am Reading & Reviewing: https://books6259.wordpress.com/
Twitter: Martie’s Book Reviews: https://twitter.com/NeesRecord