Kirsten's Reviews > The Wheel of Love and Other Stories

The Wheel of Love and Other Stories by Joyce Carol Oates
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's review
Jun 15, 2013

really liked it
bookshelves: perfect-prose, read-in-2013, short-stories, tip-top, xx-chromosome, novel-research
Recommended for: lovers of the dark corners of fiction.

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, 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.

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Reading Progress

June 15, 2013 – Started Reading
June 15, 2013 – Shelved
July 12, 2013 – Finished Reading
July 13, 2013 – Shelved as: perfect-prose
July 13, 2013 – Shelved as: short-stories
July 13, 2013 – Shelved as: read-in-2013
July 13, 2013 – Shelved as: tip-top
July 13, 2013 – Shelved as: xx-chromosome
July 13, 2013 – Shelved as: novel-research

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