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Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart
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Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  2,232 ratings  ·  117 reviews
Joyce Carol Oates adds to her extraordinary body of work with this stunning novel of violence and love. At the heart of the story are two people, Iris Courtney, who is white, and handsome Jinx Fairchild, the black basketball player who, in protecting Iris, kills a white man.

Iris is the only witness to the crime.

The two of them are growing up in the early 1950s in a New Yor

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Hardcover, 405 pages
Published April 30th 1990 by Dutton Books (first published 1990)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Hannah
I had a strange reaction to this book. I finished it, and thought to myself "OK, I have (finally) finished this book." Then I sat for like 5 minutes, and then I just started crying. This book is heartbreaking but not in the usual way.

Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart is about a black boy and a white girl growing up in an industrial town in the 1950s, who are bonded together by a secret. It's not exactly a love story. It's really the opposite: a story about the distance between peo
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AJ LeBlanc
How many times will I use the word “love” in this review?

I was introduced to Joyce Carol Oates in high school by a favorite teacher. We read some of her short stories and I was in love with how dark and fucked up they were. Some of my friends have told me that Oates was ruined for them in high school, and this is sad because her writing is amazing.

I’ve read several of her short story collections and novels and love how her mind works and the beauty of her writing. Even her “lighter” fiction is s
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Andrea
I don't know where to start, I didn't get it. The first hundred pages or so were excruciating. What was the point? The interactions between Iris and Jinx were interesting, but almost non-existent outside of the murder itself. My favorite part (and the reason this didn't get one star) was the middle section where Persia is sick and in a downward spiral. At that point I could really feel for her and Iris and actually cared what happened to them. The rest of the book seemed like nothing was happeni ...more
Bert
JCO is so great, I need to read more of her novels. I love that she writes these giant austere novels about America which are slightly crazy but also fascinating. and does JCO ever love an ellipsis! She's like...BAM....BAM....yeah!

Some of the passages in this book were just so awesomely intense and florid, I found myself almost hypnotised by descriptions of a basketball game to the point where for a second I felt like Joyce and I had somehow transmogrified into the body of the basketball player
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Jennifer
I've read this books 4 or 5 times by now - I just love her detached writing. the flow of consciousness. the drama and the plot. I love how she is the mousiest of humans yet her books flow with sex and booze and violence and injustice.
May
Nov 02, 2007 May rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everybody
This book starts out with the introduction of a girl named Iris Courtney with a father that did not care about the family and a mother that was promiscuous and an alcoholic. She is a white girl living in a time period where racial discrimination had still existed. As the story evolves, the reader is greeted with a murder; Iris watches Jinx Fairchild, who is black, kill a man for her and she is the only witness. Also, with the eventual divorce of Iris's parents, you can also see how the actions o ...more
Jessica
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dalene
While I was chaperoning choir tour last spring the professor at one of clinics remarked on what was essentially a lack of depth in the choir's gospel repertoire. "You are mostly a bunch of white kids from Utah," he said*, "What do you know of suffering?"

I just finished this book and I thought, "I am a Mormon white girl from Oregon who now lives in Provo. What do I know of suffering?"

And I felt shallow. I didn't want to ever write again.

Sure I've experienced pain and loss. But even at the heart o
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Cher
This novel starts off wonderfully with very interesting children characters, a white girl and a black boy who become friendly despite their impossibly difficult upbringings and clashing backgrounds. Then it totally devolves from there into a story about how race determines destiny. I found it heartless and horrible and a huge waste of time. It's put me off Joyce Carol Oates completely, and she is reputed to be quite brilliant. After reading about racial Calvinism for 400+ pages, though, I'm not ...more
Christina
This book was recomended to me when I was 17 by my incredible teacher Gerry Dodge. It took me ten years to finally read it, but it did not dissappoint. I read it in two days. I went to school and told my students who asked for suggestions to read it as well. This is a novelthat could help mend the racial wounds that have scarred the underbelly of our nation. It is about the pain and suffering life so often plagues the human species. However, it exhibits the healing power and strength that love p ...more
Latrice
There is an extraordinary body of work of violence and love. Joyce Carol Oates excerpt from love discusses issues involving how love can be bitter sweet. Oates includes many points about violence being a choice in society in which involves love too.
Oates talks about valid points in explosive scenes of fear and desire: There are two outlooks on "love". She states that there is a bond of passion ,shame and secrecy. Oates says that" No one is so close to me as you, no one is so close to us as we
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Logan
I like Joyce Carol Oates for many of the same reasons I like Cormac McCarthy. They both write dark stories with this very direct, but meaty and poetic prose. I think McCarthy tends to philosophize and tangentalize a bit more than JCO, but they're also both realists that take chances. I mean, one wrote a sci-fi novel (THE ROAD) and the other wrote a horror novel (ZOMBIE). Neither of those fit neatly into the genre, but of course they don't. And JCO writes stuff that you'd almost think would be on ...more
LA Carlson
Mar 31, 2011 LA Carlson rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those who like fearless fiction
Shelves: fiction
Set in the 1950's it's the story of a white girl and black boy who are bound by attraction and a secret. The underlying tone of any Oates book is always uncomfortableness with splendid details. But she writes characters who are ultimately flawed, fascinating and real. It's one of my favorite books and I love the title.
Lauren
This was the first Oates book I read and the one that made me fall in love with her. Like most, if not all Oates' books, it follows the tragic story of a young girl and her struggles to move beyond a tragedy she experiences as a youth. Very Gothic too like all Oates' works.
Chamie
I am loving this author. I have never read anyone like her. I listened to this on audio and it ended abruptly I wondered if all of it for some reason didn't download lol. I'm listening to another audio book by her now. I also lovery the title of the book.
Columbus
This was the very first (of many) books I've read by JCO and it has remained my very favorite by her. For years I called her my favorite novelist because of this book. It still is quite special and I'm looking forward to re-reading it soon.
SmarterLilac
I first read this in eleventh grade, because its title references my favorite poem by Stephen Crane. I think it's one of Oates' most enduring novels; it's definitely the one I think back to the most.
Frida
Gods, I've read so many books by Joyce Carol Oates now that I know her writing style in and out and I can tell how much effort she's put into a book. If this was the very first book I'd read by her, I would've been blown away. Whoa, goshdammit, this is good shit. But as it is, Because it's bitter, and beucase it's my heart, is probably my (?) tenth (?), and I can tell that this was not one of her most substantial, most thought-through reads. Like Blonde is. (Blonde is in a genre entirely of it ...more
Lucinda K
This ambitious novel begins with a murder committed in self-defense, one that haunts its only witness, Iris Courtney through the coming years. It also links her in an inexplicable way to the perpetrator, Jinx Fairchild. The two come of age in a New York small town the early 1950s, and the novel, which focuses on Iris, blends national history with personal history with a strong emphasis on racial issues and makes its way in a jagged line to its 1964 climax. It is a pleasurable journey, driven for ...more
Darlene
I seem to have a love/hate relationship with Joyce Carol Oates' books. I have really loved some and hated others. This story, set in a town in New York state in the segregated 1950's, quickly drew me in. But it was downhill from there. The characters, Iris Courtney (a young white girl) and Jinx Fairchild (a young black boy), are drawn together because Jinx, in defending Iris against an assault, kills a boy. The two are the only ones who know what happened.I wish I could say I liked these charact ...more
Sondra Wolferman
May 31, 2011 Sondra Wolferman rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Young adult readers.
Recommended to Sondra by: Found in the library.
Halfway through this novel I was prepared to give it five stars, mostly because of that inimitable JCO style that could make laundry spinning in a dryer sound riveting. The first half ;of the story is set in upstate New York, with interesting, working-class characters and a fast-paced plot. The characters are fully explored, especially the two mothers, Persia Courtney and Minnie Fairchild. The former is an alcoholic floozy, and the latter a hard-working but beaten-down product of our nation's ra ...more
Marcos
I found this Oates book a continuation of her novel "You Must Remember This", a story of 1950s blue collar taboo. Whereas "You Must Remember This" was a tale of incestuous love set in Upstate New York between an boxer uncle and his 15-year old niece; this much tamer novel is about the attraction between a burgeoning African-American basketball star named Jinx, and Iris, a shy withdrawn Caucasian girl who is taking care of her alcoholic mother, Persia. Ms. Oates loves to write about frail, skinny ...more
PW Cooper
Brilliant. Of course, Oates is ALWAYS brilliant. There's no other author with such an effortless feel for human misery. Contempt for self is a heavy thing to carry around.

There's a sense of life in her novels, a sense that the book is an actually living thing and the people in it to some degree autonomous. I do wonder if perhaps this book got away from her to a certain degree. It moves in unexpected directions, shifting past major events at a blinding rate and ignoring important characters for h
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Buchdoktor
Hammond, eine Kleinstadt südlich des Ontario-Sees, 1956. Die erste Frage der Polizei, als ein Fischer den Fund eines Toten meldet, lautet: Ist der Mann ein Weißer oder ein Farbiger? Der Tote ist weiß; er wird als Patrick Wesley Garlock, Spitzname Little Red, identfiziert. Ein sechzehnjähriger Mistkerl, der es nach Ansicht vieler verdient hat, um die Ecke gebracht zu werden. Der Junge war etwas schwer von Begriff und stammte aus einer Familie, in der es nicht sofort auffällt, wenn eines der viele ...more
Sarah Beaudoin
Joyce Carol Oates is one of my favorite authors and I never open one of her books without a sense of foreboding. She has an ability to create characters who I care deeply for and inevitably, something shocking and terrible happens to them. Thus every moment I spend with her books carries this feeling of waiting - waiting for something horrific and unexplainable to occur.

Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart was no exception. I spent the entire book waiting for the big reveal, for that
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Charity
I almost gave this book 5 stars. After taking a while to warm up to the story and almost putting it aside a few times, I found that after about 150 pages, I couldn't put it down. During those first 150 pages, I couldn't relate to or find anything I cared about in the characters. I found them a little tiresome and confusing. I only kept reading because of Oates' prose style, which I find fluid and very appealing, and my experiences with Oates' work in the past, which have so far never disappointe ...more
Carol
Joyce Carol Oates has a talent of delving into characters to the point that you feel you know them. The two main characters, Iris and Jinx, show us how race impacts destiny. The black and white color barriers in this novel beg the reader to ask the question: what color is the blood that runs in all of our veins? As the reader, I wondered what would have resulted if the roles of Iris and Jinx were reversed. If Iris were black, would she have ended where she did?
Rachel
3 1/2 Stars
This was an intense read. The first 1/3 of it, for me, was much less enjoyable than the last 2/3. It was beautifully written, Oates is undeniably talented. But it was just so heavy and slow at first that I really wanted to be done with it. But I still liked the book, and I'm glad I read it. It is definitely one of the least predictable books I have read. Besides what is told in the book description, nothing else I expected to happen ever did. It was extremely complex, the POV switched
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Shane Malcolm
A sprawling saga of racial tension, class division, and a hidden secret in late 50s-early 60s upstate New York, this was the fifth Oates novel to be nominated for the prestigious National Book Award. It's fairly long (405 pages) but reads fast. The main characters, Iris Courtney and Jinx Fairchild, are well-developed. Iris's detached quality is reminiscent of other Oates heroines, but over the course of 400 pages she stakes a claim as one of the more memorable. As is typical for Oates's novels, ...more
Shibilly
I may return to this book later, as I wasn't quite engrossed enough to continue reading it at the moment, but I did find a few nuggets of interest in it. The character of Persia is actually quite interesting, and I was looking forward to learning more about the dynamics & complexity of her relationship w her husband; however, after reading nearly 7 chapters, and STILL not yet even introduced to the character of Jinx, once again I thought the story-telling pace ran slow & heavy and did no ...more
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  • Come to Me
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  • The Collected Stories
  • Lucinella
  • Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, A Memoir
  • Cry Me a River
  • Prospero's Daughter
  • Trailerpark
  • Love Me
  • Some Girls
  • City of Darkness, City of Light
  • Entering Normal
  • A Flag For Sunrise
  • A Garlic Testament: Seasons on a Small New Mexico Farm
  • The Lone Pilgrim
  • Dear Catastrophe Waitress
  • Writings and Drawings
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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
More about Joyce Carol Oates...
We Were the Mulvaneys The Falls The Gravedigger's Daughter Blonde Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang

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