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My Heart Laid Bare (The Gothic Saga #4)

3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  464 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
Mythic in scope, ballad-like in the telling, this strikingly original historical novel represents a fresh and exciting achievement for an American masterThrough a layering of historical events beginning in Colonial times and ending in the 1930s, Joyce Carol Oates has created a new American epic in this sweeping chronicle of the fortunes and misfortunes of a family of enter ...more
Hardcover, 531 pages
Published June 1st 1998 by Dutton Adult (first published 1998)
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Jul 10, 2015 Holly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, grande
God, JCO. I do love you. I wanted this book to be epic. There were times, mostly in the first half, where I genuinely believed this was going to be a brilliant novel. There were times when I just couldn't put it down—when I got so wrapped up in schemes and reveals and characters' motivations that I would whip through 50 pages in one sitting (a lot for me, for those of you tsk-tsking). But every time I hit one of these 50-page runs, they were eventually followed by another 50 pages that took me w ...more
This tale of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century escapades of a family of con artists is a departure for Oates in terms of its setting, if not its theme and tone. More known for tough, tragic stories set in the contemporary world or the recent past, Oates takes advantage of the sweep and turbulence of the decades on either side of 1900 to address classic themes: love, loss, ambition, envy, loyalty, betrayal, and the myriad other forces that draw families together and pull them apart. ...more
Laura J. W.
Jan 25, 2013 Laura J. W. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My Heart Laid Bare is a creation from an epic imagination — what a beautiful thing for a writer to enjoy, especially to use it to produce something so grand is a labor of love. Joyce Carol Oates is quite the creative dynamo — I’ve lost count of how many stories she’s written, and I have yet to buy let alone read all of them. One thing for sure, she loves words, she comes out to play with them; part of her process is becoming possessed by the story that she must tell — wringing out every last oun ...more
Sep 27, 2011 Judy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is my first introduction to Oates. It is a period piece set in the early 1900's. I'm hoping she purposely chose to write in a style that was indicative to the times. If this is how she normally writes I'm going to have a tough time with her other books.
The book is about a family of con-artists that stumbles through life hoping to achieve infinite wealth and stumbling along the way. They are never honest with anyone or even themselves making the title ironic. Their plots and schemes are cer
I have a feeling Joyce Carol Oates doesn't have a very high opinion of society. Her characters (across many of her novels) tend not to be likable but that's what makes them so realistic. She delves deep into their inner monologues, revealing their most heinous and perplexing thoughts. I love it. Combined with a damn good story (a family of con artists in the early 20th century), this is easily my favorite Oates novel. Even despite the number of times she utilizes the word "breathless." Seriously ...more
I can't give it a proper synopsis because I read it quite some years ago. However, it is my favorite book ever. I concede that the first few chapters are hard to get through because they seem so disconnected. Everyone I've given it to I advised to just try to get through to chapter 5 and you will be hooked. It was such a sweeping, epic novel and the intricacies of all the family members was astounding. Such a fantastic book! It really should be on required reading lists, if not in high school, t ...more
Jul 14, 2015 Tuxlie marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition

Finally returned to print in a beautiful paperback edition, a haunting gothic tale of a nineteenth-century immigrant family of confidence artists—a story of morality, duplicity, and retribution that explores the depths of human manipulation and vulnerability

The patriarch of the Licht family, Abraham has raised a brood of talented con artists, children molded in his image, and experts in The Game, his calling and philosophy of life. Traveling from one small town to the next across the continent,

May 04, 2008 Don rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone with solid chunks of reading time
While I did enjoy this novel, I found it struggled to consistently retain my attention. Set around the turn of the last century, Heart is about a confidence man and a confidence family. Interesting character observations revolve around the lives of the children and their intricate, unpredictable and often volatile relationship with the father and protagonist. There is a subtle subtext how powerful parental influence is; equally in harmony as in dissent.

Though fictionalized and contemporarily au
L.K. Merideth
Feb 15, 2014 L.K. Merideth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great read! I not only enjoyed the process of reading this book, but the story was fantastic as well! The use of language and word craft was spectacular. In one passage, describing a swamp, the author slings out a few 150 word sentences. The reader is forced to take in the description of the surroundings all at once - and is left somewhat breathless.

The story of the confidence artist and his family was so engaging. By the middle of the book, I couldn’t help wondering where they would turn up
Rick Folker
kind of drags in the middle but finishes well
"The Game is never to be played as if it were but a game when it is in fact life."

I had a hard time getting into the book, but I have read so little from this time period that I wanted to keep going. At times the asides into different character's goings on made it hard to concentrate.

Another theme I liked was a character's realization that when you get your wish you realize it's not really your wish and no longer true. For me the book is a growing-up tale about how family changes and even thoug
jojo the burlesque poetess
Mar 24, 2009 jojo the burlesque poetess marked it as limbo-unfinished
damn you depressing addictive lady. i'm so surprised she isn't compared to the faulkner school more often. or is she? she is faulkner meets magical realism. in my book anyway, she and louise erdrich are the only ones who can weave such spells and story snippets into a novel...

anyway this is a novel emerging out of a series of erotic/mysterious con-artist tales, she really has mastered a 19th century voice of skepticism and voyeurism marvelously well. i'm barely 100 pages in and still am just lea
Jun 26, 2007 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: booksilike
I just finished this recently. It was one of those books that took me a year to read because I kept putting it down and picking it up. The story is fantastic: turn-of-the-century American family of confidence men (and women) who hatch various daring schemes, not to make money, per se, but to prove their mastery of "The Game." The book is funny and cynical at times, but also deeply emotional and a little sad. My only complaint is that Oates's style here is a little convoluted and exhausting--it m ...more
Kira Fisher
May 01, 2008 Kira Fisher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ireadyou
i enjoyed this book more than the other JCO books i've read, but i noticed i didn't want to finish it. she's so hard on her character, and i didn't want them all to end up destroyed and broken like i felt she was headed towards, so i stopped and i never finished. that says a lot about my own preferences in literature, but it also speaks to my prevailing sense of JCO as a bit of a downer. i seldom look forward to picking up a book that has no hope of ending well. i just don't.and while i haven't ...more
Aug 01, 2016 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read "We Were the Mulvaneys" by Joyce Carol Oates just last year and enjoyed her writing as well as the tale she wove, so when I saw this one at a used book store not long ago, I was interested. My Heart Laid Bare takes place in the late 19th early 20th century and tells the story of a brilliant, though tormented, con artist and the legacy he almost created through his seven children by at least four different women. He believed himself infallible, but didn't account for the free will of his p ...more
Jan 14, 2016 Jeanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really engrossing story of a family of turn-of-the-century con artsits, some willing, some not but become willing - JCO is so good at writing fully formed characters. Even when they are less then likeable you still understand where they are coming from and why they may do the things they do. She certainly isn't a "magical realist" writer but her stories do seem to exist in an idealized world in some ways, which I like. People are still realistic but BETTER (or worse, in some cases.)
Lolly K Dandeneau
There are so many reviews of this book, I just have to say the style is different from all her usual stuff and this novel is much more depressing than anything else she's written. I wasn't as in love with this novel as all the others. I would certainly advise people that have never read her work to start with anything else but this or they may be put off by her. It's not bad at all, it's just not her usual style that so many of us have come to love.
Oct 12, 2011 Melanie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I couldn't get into this book. I only liked one character. I kept reading thinking it would pique my interest at some point and never did. It's basically about a family who's father is a con artist and tries to teach his children the skills of the con artist. Mixed into that are mystical / magical occurances that seemed to me out of place. Not one of my best picks from the Falmouth Book Fair.
May 24, 2013 Mike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: good-writing
Oates has written over 30 novels; I've read about half of them. She is a consummate pro - her prose seems effortless, but is still rich and peppered with good ideas. And her breadth of plot is admirable. What I particularly liked about this one is that she initiated several subplots along with the main plot, and brought all of them to a sound conclusion.
Nov 18, 2013 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of Oates' more illustrious novels, one I would recommend to a newcomer looking to explore her work and worlds. Elucidates on themes of con artistry, family, race relations from England to the Mid-Atlantic Region in the late 1800s to Harlem in the '20s.brrilliant prose and very quotable. I couldn't put this book down, something to get lost in.
Mar 29, 2008 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was the first Joyce Carol Oates book that I've read. It's one of my favorite books of all time, but apparently a departure from Oates' usual work. I picked up several other Oates books after reading this one and didn't like any of them. So perhaps not the best book for fans of Oates, but great if you've never read any of her work before.
Sep 01, 2015 Margaret rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow!! This was a great book and nothing like I've ever read. The plot and the style of writing really pulls you in. A bit stream of consciousness which takes a little getting used to but these characters will stick with you long after the book is done. 531 pages and still couldn't get enough of the story!!
Lorena Drapeau
i just don't like oates. this was her third chance and even though i liked this better than the others i read i just can't get into her writing style.
if anyone has a suggestion as to the BEST oates i would love to hear it. i REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted to like her because she has so much material out there that i figured she could keep me good and busy. but no such luck....
Karen Anne
Mar 12, 2015 Karen Anne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the first books I read of JCO. I thought it was great. What I like about her, is that all her books are interesting! And well written. And sometimes dark. Very dark. And disturbing. Very disturbing. One great artist
Charles M.
This popular author really takes a sidestep from her regular plots, in decsribing the swindling life of Abraham Licht, as he moves across 19th century America going through his many scams. Very different for Oates!
Aug 20, 2015 Jenny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A remarkable tour de force tracing the lives of a family of con artists as they play the Game and wreak havoc on the upperclass of early 20th century America. One gets the impression that America herself is the longest con. Truly brilliant.
May 29, 2007 Pamela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very entertaining - read this on a vacation in S. Carolina. Loved and horrified by the part when the son's organs are delivered in pretty boxes. Will never forget that...
May 07, 2012 Bridget rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I always forget how difficult her books can be to read. The plot was interesting and I wanted to know how it came out, but it took an awfully long time to work through.
Another one I couldn't get into...the first few pages were confusing and I wasn't able to enjoy my time spent reading or get into the story. Also took this one back to the library unfinished.
Mar 01, 2015 Anne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I swear, no one else can tell a story the way that she does, but sometimes it's just too much. This book needs to be edited, for heaven's sake. Too much!
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Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is also the recipient of the 2005 Prix Femina for The Falls. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and she has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. Pseudonyms ... Rosamond Smith and Laure ...more
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The Gothic Saga (5 books)
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