I admit that by the end of this large collection of stories, I was praying to myself, "please don't go crazy, please don't go crazy." Madness, obsessi...moreI admit that by the end of this large collection of stories, I was praying to myself, "please don't go crazy, please don't go crazy." Madness, obsessive thoughts, anxiety, drug use, familial death, and physical disfigurements all feature heavily in these dark pieces, all originally published by 1970. These are stories of their time, too: racial integration, counterculture in conflict with suburbia, trapped housewives, the decline of Detroit.
"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is by far the most famous story here, and it's really not overrated, in my opinion. I would group it among the most perfect, unsettling short stories written in the past 100 years. It's a distinctly American classic. Another classic would be "How I Contemplated the World from the Detroit House of Corrections and Began My Life Over Again." Love and sexuality loom as disruptive forces for the men and women of these stories, especially the women. Characters are paralyzed in adulterous hell or transfixed in moments of despair over a life that stretches predictably ahead. On the other side, those who choose the bohemian way fare no better. They are flying dangerously free, unmoored and despised.
Oates' stories depict a culture at a crossroads and railing within it. The smoothness of artistic production can be ripped apart by the intrusion of the other. The burden of performing personality is a sentence of permanent psychic anxiety.
From a stylistic standpoint, these are also worthwhile fictional experiments. Rather than conventional plots, many of the stories in this collection rely on snapshots in time of the same character. Sometimes, they are told backward. Sometimes, groupings of experience and advancing psychological states are captured beneath obtuse or leading subject headings. I enjoyed this organizational ingenuity and the way Oates' distinctive prose lingers on mental states and character impressions. Nothing is described dispassionately; in contrast, everything is experienced as intense, jarring, and grating on the senses. This technique does a good job in creating unease for the reader and illuminating the interiors of Oates almost uniformly troubled characters.
This was my first time reading Oates at length, but I definitely would like to read more of her fiction. I feel after completing The Wheel of Love that I've experienced that time period more viscerally than I have before.(less)
This collection intrigued me and I stuck with it, though in the end, it didn't stick to my ribs or blaze through with an unforgettable line. I think t...moreThis collection intrigued me and I stuck with it, though in the end, it didn't stick to my ribs or blaze through with an unforgettable line. I think the more colloquial, story-telling prose poems were the most accessible of the collection, though they, too, seemed to deliberately elude a complete grasp. (less)
The strongest stories of this collection are viscerally located in the context of Nevada history and the mining boom in that area and California. The...moreThe strongest stories of this collection are viscerally located in the context of Nevada history and the mining boom in that area and California. The standouts are "Ghosts, Cowboys," which also plays as innovative autobiography, and "The Diggings." In general, I enjoyed the stories trying on vastly different narrative voices--one even epistolary. There are a few two many stories about a same-ish young, semi-lost, semi-artistic, semi-alcoholic girl with semi-likeable friends for my liking. Plus, these are invariably told in the present tense, which is becoming more and more a huge pet peeve of mine in modern fiction. It has its time and place, but for me, always trivializes and adds false portentousness to 98% of fiction dealing with adult characters or themes.
Present tense is for intensely voicey fiction or for lingering on the wounds of some burned out, apocalyptic landscape. Otherwise, keep it hooked in one's toolbelt.(less)
The best writers truly love people. I mean, really, why write fiction if you don't? Saunders' humanism, compassion, and empathy stand out on every pag...moreThe best writers truly love people. I mean, really, why write fiction if you don't? Saunders' humanism, compassion, and empathy stand out on every page, as does his absolutely delightful facility with language play, and the voices in our heads. His imagined fantasies within his characters' inner monologues are completely hilarious, while at the same time being that rare something -- true. I laughed out loud many times while reading this collection, and the title story had me weeping. Most of these stories are five star stories, but since not all of them were at the same level, I went with four stars overall. Highly recommended!(less)