Joyce Carol Oates turned 75 years old yesterday, and she’s now writing some of the best fiction of her career.
And so despite my esteem for the high challenge of writing, for the reach of the writerly life, it’s not something anyone actually wants me to do. The American mind has made that very clear, it has said: ‘Be a specialised something — fill your head with the zeitgeist, with the technical — and we’ll write your ticket.’
In Virginia Woolf’s terms, Oates has put as much of her art down on the page as possible, has expressed herself completely, achieving ‘the prodigious effort of freeing whole and entire’ the work that is in her.
How do you describe the life and times of John Horne Burns? He was in turn a military intelligence officer, a schoolteacher, a critical darling after he published The Gallery, a pariah after he published anything else, and a gay man in post-WWII America. In characteristic concision, Ernest Hemingway summed the whole thing up: “There was a fellow who wrote a fine book and then a stinking book about a prep school, and then he just blew himself up.”
I found myself consumed by My Struggle, swallowed whole in a way that recalled for me the experience of reading similarly mammoth works like Moby-Dick, JR, Crime and Punishment, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, 2666 — Big Books that temporarily assume an autocrat’s control over their readers’ inner lives.
Words of wisdom, from Kurt Vonnegut.
Introducing The Vonnegut Review, a telegraphic schizophrenic journey through Vonnegut’s novels. Coming this summer. Stay tuned.
As summer rolls around, you might way to get acquainted with The Vonnegut Review. Conceived by Wilson Taylor and Matthew Gannon, the review will function as a season-long project “dedicated toward reading and reviewing all fourteen of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels.” You can participate with the Review’s Twitter and Tumblr posts by utilizing the hashtag “#VonnegutSummer.”
Jim Agee: tall, darkly handsome. Prematurely melancholy in a manner both pretentious seeming and deeply real. A great talker, a great (which is to say, bad) drinker, an expert at accentuating or cloaking his southern roots, as occasion demanded. Possessed of as much talent—if by ‘talent’ we mean sheer wattage of verbal combination—as anyone in his generation, a talent that he was on his way either to wasting, if you hold with his latter-day detractors, or to fulfilling, in some necessarily fractured way.
I completely believe in the power of love. I think that race, as it has been constructed in America, makes it almost impossible for people of different races to have a real conversation about race, let alone understand how the other person feels. Storytelling helps. Storytelling can be an entry point.