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What I Lived For

3.70  ·  Rating Details  ·  736 Ratings  ·  54 Reviews
Oates's latest novel is a big, breathless, complex, and sometimes painfully intense tale relating one man's every thought and move during the 1992 Memorial Day weekend. Corky Corcoran is a cocky, Irish Catholic, alcoholic, self-made millionaire as well as a city council member in Union City, New York. The turning point for Corky comes with the suicide of Marilee Plummer, a ...more
Published (first published 1994)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,900)
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Paul Bryant
Oct 14, 2009 Paul Bryant rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who can keep up
Shelves: novels
Nobody wants to speak up for this book but I will. It's a huge breathless painful headlong dangerous full-pelt rush, all 600 pages of it. So accurate about the awfulness of the male mind that many pages were for me excruciating reading. It's horribly compelling. Quite brilliant. So naturally I thought I was a JCO fan, but then I read Zombie, which was kinda not such a good idea. Then I went for "them". Couldn't be bothered with that. Then I tried "We Were the Mulvaneys" - that seemed like it mig ...more
Leo Robertson
Skimmed like mad.

It's weird: I think Oblivion is one of my favourite books, and those stories are the most dense with detail I've ever read: what everyone's wearing, what's on the table, the lighting, weird things the characters did that day... but in Oblivion these details are captured in the narrative flow. In What I Lived For, a weekend in the life of Corky Corcoran, Corky Corcoran, Corky Corcoran, Corky Corcoran, Corky Corcoran, Corky Corcoran, Corky Corcoran, Corky Corcoran, Corky Corcoran,
Aug 17, 2014 Rita rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-fiction
Oates believes in childhood having the key to your personality and behavior, as she shows in this book with flashbacks to Corky’s childhood. Knowing this should prevent us from thinking Oates is saying ALL men are like this one.

On the one hand I didn’t want to put the book down, on the other hand I knew I mustn’t read it before bedtime. Kept finding myself hoping Corky would change at least a little, get at least a little more sensible. Rooting for him, in other words. Excruciating to see the t
Scott Fishwick
Oct 12, 2015 Scott Fishwick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was my first time reading JCO so naturally I did some googling at the outset to try to see how this book fits within her massive oeuvre. Nowhere did I see it mentioned as one of her better works or a good place to start for an introduction to her work. After reading, I can't help but think this book has been terribly slighted. In "Corky", an alcoholic, sex-addicted Irish-American real estate developer and municipal politician in upstate New York, JCO persuasively portrays the darker aspects ...more
Nov 29, 2013 Marika rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"What is passing so swiftly so irrevocably into what was."

Finally, I'm done. That was (1) exhausting, (2) train-wreck enthralling, (3) TMI . This book does not entertain. It does not bolster the reader's faith in humanity. It does not use punctuation as much as is normal.

It does deliver a frightening, totally convincing expose of the inner thoughts and drives of a charming, womanizing, heavy drinking man of fading good looks and average intelligence as he systematically makes one bad decision a
C Lasseter
Oct 05, 2011 C Lasseter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the best books I have ever read, but it is NOT for the faint of heart. If you like your books clean, run. Fast. Now. This is Joyce Carol Oates at her best, because she seems to step out of her own comfort zone to tell the story of a hard-drinking young Irishman who loves 'em and leaves 'em. This book is not awkward or sappy. She nails it, as the protagonist nails everyone he sees. Only JCO can make you come to like a guy like this, but you do.
I renewed this book at the library the maximum number of times permitted--and then once more!--and still no dice. I just could not get interested enough in the story to bother finishing it. It doesn't matter how good others say a book is...if I'm not diggin' it, I'm just not diggin' it! Oh, well.
Oct 28, 2009 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm so impressed with Joyce Carol Oates.

First of all, she looks as quirky as she writes. My kind of person! Second, she has so much talent with unsettling stories. Stories that are unsettling?

What I Lived For unsettled me because I wasn't prepared for it. JCO writes in such a strange voice in this story. She channels an egotistical Irish man/boy so well that I think she knows the male psyche better than I do. And apparently it's a violent, penis-centered place.

Do men really think and respond the
Nov 28, 2014 Jane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a wild, nutty book, one I started apprehensively—it’s so long, and Oates is often so dark—and devoured. The protagonist, Corky, a real estate developer and a big man about his Buffalo-ish upstate New York town, is a muddled mess, corrupt, prone to racist asides, an alcoholic, creepily attracted to his former stepdaughter. Over and over again the reader winces at some horrible thing Corky says, and his discomfort in his own skin.

For a few days, Corky drives around town, conducting an aff
Denny Fisher
I wanted to hate this book. So many times I wanted to stop reading it, Corky drove me completely mad all the way to the very end. But, now that I've finished reading it, I find myself missing the testosterone driven roller coaster ride...
Jul 21, 2015 Cindy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I just finished this book. I haven't read Oates in a long time and forgot how dark she gets. Her writing is so magnificent (of coarse) that I got sucked in and went the whole way down with Corky. I guess this makes me think of a completely unexamined life, in that Corky just acts and never reflects. On anything! He has plenty of internal dialogue but none of it is self-reflective. And he does some really bad stuff. Like attempt to seduce his stepdaughter. Ugh. But its JCO, so of coarse she went ...more
Sandra Alonzo
Mar 03, 2010 Sandra Alonzo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an oldie (1994) and a fabulous read. Joyce Carol Oates is one of my favorite authors.
Jun 23, 2015 Nicole rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mesmerizing and totally absorbing, unlike anything I've read before, and kind of horrible all at the same time. The reader is in the head of an alcoholic, self absorbed, hustling, horny, insecure, restless, and ultimately pathetic businessman in upstate NY for a long and tumultuous weekend. Feels like a dream when you are reading it, it just keeps going and going and dragging you along even when you feel like "i want this to stop". One of those books that I'm glad I read, and I won't read again. ...more
e b
Sep 09, 2010 e b rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sidney Sheldon for the literary set.
Jul 29, 2011 Sara marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
95 finalist-pulitzer prize
Oct 17, 2013 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book in college, which by now means about 10 years ago. I don't remember anything about the plot, other than that it takes place over a long holiday weekend and involves a hot shot politico and his daughter. I don't remember any characters other than Corky Corcoran, which barely matters because every sentence of this book revolves around him, anyway.

What I do remember, a decade later, is this book's effect. Oates captures the male psyche so effectively here that it's almost unbearabl
Dawn M
Jun 22, 2014 Dawn M rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
What is this book even about? The main plot-line is so muddled by the ramblings of the protagonist, Corky Corcoran (such a narcistic, sex-driven a-hole), that it was hard for me to follow. The reader literally reads every thought that comes in and out of his brain over a 4 day period. The only reason I finished this book is because I was on a 7 hour road trip with nothing else to read. Every character was so unlikeable, most of all Corky, that I really didn't find myself caring about any of them ...more
Spunto interessante e sempre attuale, ma un po' sprecato da Joyce Carol Oates, che diluisce la già esile trama con numerosi momenti morti e scene di sesso molto simili tra loro. Sarebbe potuto durare la metà delle pagine e non avrebbe perso un'oncia della sua potenza, anzi ne sarebbe uscito un romanzo ancora più prorompente.
Ms Stef
May 13, 2016 Ms Stef rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Okay I am not saying JCO is a bad writer. She can write a sentence that is hardy, fulfilling, and can put some popular writers to shame. The biggest problem I had with this book was the main character and spending 600 plus pages in his head. I don't mind 1st person view points or books with ego driven characters, yet in What I Lived For it drove me insane. Like having to sit in a lecture hall for a class you really had high hopes for but found is was not like what the school catalog said it woul ...more
Joyce Carol Oates is a prolific author, who somehow manages to write of a character's mind so clearly. I hated this character. Jerome "Corky" is a man who feels he embodies greatness, trying to get out of his "Irish Hill" upbringing. Corky witnesses his father's murder at the age of 12 on a Christmas Eve that he will never forget.

The writing style was a stream-of-consciousness, here-and-there-and-then-back-here again. I hated the physical details provided about how Corky thinks about womena and
Jun 12, 2015 Dionne rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had to pull my 100 page rule out on this one. I'm a JCO fan for years, but this book I just could not get into. 100 pages in and I still don't care about any of the characters - that's my queue to move on.
Aug 12, 2015 Patty marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I'm going to set this one aside for a while. I'm not in the mood to find out a lot more about Corky.
Jim Craig
Mar 25, 2014 Jim Craig rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Impressive how a female author so convincingly thinks herself into the mind of a macho male!
Feb 27, 2014 Shishumin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Alexandria Guasco
This book was okay, it wasn't great, but the end made it not so horrible. I had a hard time getting through it considering how much I hated the narrator, Corky. He's a typical dog of a man and Oates portray's him very well in the New York, business career way. I just think it could have been done in less than 600 pages. The last section of the book is where most of the conflict arises and a much awaited ending finally arrives.
Apr 04, 2013 Melanie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
So I have this way of reading where I read for awhile normally then I start to flip around the book especially if I am hoping it gets better. It didn't. Not going to bother finishing. Stopping on 207. It is just more of the same crap from my flipping around maybe that's the point but I find it a little shallow and dead.
May 01, 2016 Jmcgrath rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Brian Dahlvig
Mar 13, 2015 Brian Dahlvig rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How can a 600-page book with one main character over four days be SUCH a freaking page turner?? Damn!
May 02, 2008 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I could not put this down. Oddly, I cannot remember in what part of my life I was reading this book--but I didn't stip until I finished. Now that I think about it, I would like to read a serious review of it to see if the critics thought she wrote this male lead character well--I do.
Jan 06, 2011 Martha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
High intensity novel taking place over a Memorial Day weekend. Main character is a high-power real estate broker whose life is circling the drain.

Oates is amazing for the sheer number of her books, and that they are consistently of high quality is all the more amazing.
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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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