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Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart

3.89  ·  Rating Details ·  2,516 Ratings  ·  132 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

Hardcover, 405 pages
Published April 30th 1990 by Dutton Books (first published 1990)
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Jul 14, 2009 Hannah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
AJ LeBlanc
Nov 29, 2012 AJ LeBlanc rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, cbr-iv, fiction
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
Oates certainly has good intentions here. She wants to examine the way that privilege and oppression intersect in a relationship between a black boy and a white girl. He is valued because he is tough, because he is forward, and because he is smart. She is valued because she comes from money, because she is graceful and because she is kind. What attractions there are are doomed to never blossom into the love they both feel they need, because they are struggling for power and something to put them ...more
Feb 03, 2013 Andrea rated it it was ok
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
Nov 10, 2011 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 24, 2007 May rated it really liked it  ·  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
Nov 23, 2014 Bert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 10, 2009 Jessica rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 19, 2008 Dalene rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 29, 2008 Christina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 23, 2008 Cher rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
Lisa A. Carlson
Mar 31, 2011 Lisa A. Carlson rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 16, 2009 Columbus rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 26, 2012 Chamie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 13, 2010 Lauren rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 12, 2009 SmarterLilac rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Tristan Goding
Nov 16, 2016 Tristan Goding rated it it was ok
I was a little bit disappointed in this Oates outing. This novel explores the complications that come in certain circles from interracial love. The prose was a lot more vulgar than it needed to be, and even though the characters were all wonderful, the storyline didn't end up really being as involving as I'd hoped. As always, Joyce Carol Oates displays a lot of ingenious ideas and some unique writing, and the message is still, sadly, very relevant today, so the book has not aged, which is always ...more
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
Jan 11, 2016 Jackie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read three JCO books thus far and all were explosive!!!!! SHE IS HOLY. I just am nervous now because I know I will get more of them (she has tons) && I wonder if I'll eventually, at some pass, have to be disappointed. This book was AWESOME!!! I have been trying to find a book that covers race relations (from the viewpoint of ROMANCE but still something 'LITERARY', not 'erotica', which is fun but annoying) for quite awhile and have found very few. Of course who knows where to look ...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
Jan 27, 2011 Darlene rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 10, 2015 Frida rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english
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
Sondra Wolferman
May 07, 2011 Sondra Wolferman rated it liked it  ·  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
Jan 10, 2008 Charity rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 05, 2015 Logan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 06, 2016 Judith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I registered this book at!

I first read this several years ago. I remember being affected by the feelings of young Iris Courtney. I felt that Oates expressed the feelings many children have, of being left out, for different reasons. I identified with some of those feelings.

I didn't as much get that feeling this time around. However, I found something different.

Iris is a loner from the wrong side of the tracks. She is about 12 when her
Ilyse Kramer
The title, which sounds so maudlin comes from a Steven Crane poem where the speaker encounters a goblin eating its own heart, when the narrator says: why are you doing this? The creature says 'because it is bitter and because it is my heart.'

Oates traces the lives of Iris and Jinx in the aftermath of the murder that binds the two of them together. Both of them cannibalize parts of themselves-out of guilt, shame, and are never free from the act that haunts them.

I first read this in high school af
Lucinda K
Sep 30, 2013 Lucinda K rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
PW Cooper
Apr 29, 2012 PW Cooper rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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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...

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“For once a truth is known it cannot be unknown, it can only be denied.” 2 likes
“I don't want anything from you but the fact of you.” 1 likes
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