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review 2017-06-09 13:45
Dis Mem Ber by Joyce Carol Oates
DIS MEM BER and Other Stories of Mystery and Suspense - Joyce Carol Oates

Dis Mem Ber is an excellent collection of stories previously published elsewhere. The only threads they have in common is that they are all from a woman's point of view, (except for WELCOME TO FRIENDLY SKIES!), and they are all unsettling.

 

My favorite had to be the first story, DISMEMBER, in which a young girl narrowly escapes what could have been a nasty end.

 

HEARTBREAK was the story of two sisters, one beautiful and the other, not so much. Sometimes jealousy can get out of hand, before we even realize we are jealous.

 

I also enjoyed BLUE HERON quite a bit. This is the story of a widow dealing with her grief while trying to avoid her scummy brother-in-law who wants her to sell her lake-house.

 

Lastly, WELCOME TO FRIENDLY SKIES! had to be one of the funniest stories I've read in years. I'm not going to say anything further about it, as I think it's best to go into it cold.

 

Overall, this was a satisfying collection of stories from one of the masters of American short fiction. Highly recommended!

 

You can get your copy here: DIS MEM BER and Other Stories of Mystery and Suspense

 

*Thanks to NetGalley and Mysterious Press for the free e-ARC in exchange for my honest review. This is it!*

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review 2017-05-02 17:50
Review: A Book of American Martyrs
A Book of American Martyrs - Joyce Carol Oates

Fact: There are some people in the world who make their ideology into a crusade. They believe they are right, even if they're presented with information that they are wrong. They stop at nothing to force their way of life onto others. They will resort to extreme measures if necessary.

Fiction: Everyone who shares that same belief or ideology also shares in the crusade. They all believe they are always right no matter the evidence against them. Everyone of a particular ideology charges ahead in the quest to convert the world to their way of thinking.

Joyce Carol Oates presents this “fiction” as a fact in her most recent novel, A Book of American Martyrs and it's troubling. The promise to present both sides of the abortion debate with empathy and an unbiased perspective is complete rot. On one side of the debate we have Augustus Voorhees, an abortion provider who is a community leader and a loving family man who is brilliant and well-spoken, a man who provides free abortions to women who cannot pay and does so because he is truly kind-hearted. Then there's Luther Dunphy. Dunphy is a Christian man who believes God is telling him to murder abortion doctors. Dunphy is ignorant. Dunphy is a common man who contributes nothing to society. Dunphy is a hypocrite who cheats on his wife and abuses his children. The Dunphys are against radio, television, movies, sex education, contraception, vaccinations, Tampax, alcohol, carbonated beverages, chewing gum, sugar, sugar substitutes, games like Monopoly, and a slew of other things. (No, I'm not making any of this up.) And all that is fine. There are men out there like Voorhees and there are men out there like Dunphy. The fact is, there are some people in the world who make their ideology into a crusade.

The problem comes in the blanketing stereotype of everyone. Every single pro-choice character is intelligent and wonderful, a model citizen. Every single pro-life character is a hypocritical and ignorant extremist. This is fiction. How is it that we open-minded individuals who have opposed these kind of blanketing statements now embrace them? Merely because the shoe is on the other foot? Come on, I expect more of us. If this book were making such statements about a marginalized group we've become accustomed to defending, we'd be up in arms about it. We'd call the author a bigot and demand a boycott. But simply because the group she attacks “deserves it,” we turn away and smile indignantly. I, for one, choose not to smile.

For the most part, A Book of American Martyrs fails for this very reason. It is fiction with an agenda. And it's not even masked in the slightest.

Luckily, the book gets away from Luther Dunphy and Augustus Voorhees. It becomes a novel about their children. And fortunately, for the sake of this story, Naomi and D.D. are much more rounded characters than their parents. They do not blindly follow the path that has been made for them. It's a much better and balanced novel in the last couple hundred pages, but that does not diminish the hatred of the first several hundred. The whole novel is well written and very Oatesian in all ways, but in the end, propaganda is propaganda, no matter how beautifully it is dressed.

This novel made me angry, but that can be a good thing: we need to talk about this. What worries me however is the direction we're going. Hatred and prejudice are wrong regardless of the recipient. Let's not lose sight of the truth.

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review 2017-05-01 02:22
Lost Landscape
The Lost Landscape: A Writer's Coming of Age - Joyce Carol Oates,Cassandra Campbell

 

 

Although I have read quite a few of Joyce Carol Oates's works, since she is so prolific, I think I've just barely scraped the surface.  One of the things I admire about her is her eclecticism.  She doesn't confine herself to any one genre nor fall back on any sort of a formula.

 

Probably the first book of hers that I read was Them.  I recall it was on my parents' bookshelf.  My dad was in her graduating class at Syracuse University, and he used to tell me with some pride that he and she were both on the school paper, The Daily Orange.  While I was a PhD student in the 1990s, she gave a talk at my university, and I was lucky to be chosen to attend the post-talk dinner.  She couldn't have been a more gracious dinner companion.  And no, she didn't remember my dad, but I didn't necessarily expect her to!

 

I enjoyed this memoir, and it made me realize how little I knew about Oates's personal life.  One of the things I enjoyed was the afterword, in which she makes a distinction between "memoir" and "autobiography" and explains which elements and details she had changed in order to protect the privacy of some of the people she wrote about.  She also described some of the people and events she did not include and explained why she made that choice.  Ever the teacher, she teaches her readers about the text they have just read.

 

The narrator of the audiobook has a very pleasant voice, though it often struck me how unlike the author's voice it is.  Like the word "demure."  I recall at the talk she gave at my university, Oates sharing with incredulity that people are always expecting her to be demure.  And her pronunciation of the word, in her Western New York accent, sounds quite different from the narrator's rendition.  Still a good reading, though.

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text 2017-04-30 11:16
April Wrap Up and Challenge Update Part 1
The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror - Joyce Carol Oates
Sedition: A Novel - Katharine Grant
Aurora - Kim Stanley Robinson
I Will Fear No Evil - Robert A. Heinlein
Women All on Fire: The Women of the English Civil War - Alison Plowden
The Breakdown - B. A. Paris

Well, April is pretty much over and as a reading month it hasn't been too bad. The first book I finished was:

 

The Doll Master and Other Tales of Terror by Joyce Carol Oates

This book was an opportune pick at the library. As usual I went in to get one book and came out with 5. I read a collection of her short stories a few years ago and wasn't that impressed but as this was a library book I thought I would give her another chance. I was surprised that I enjoyed it so much. The first story was mediocre and I thought that my opinion was going to be vindicated but I found the other stories much more to my taste. So 4/5 stars for that.

 

Next up was another library pick and the one that I had originally gone in for:

 

Sedition by Katharine Grant.

This one has been on my radar for a while and I wasn't disappointed. At the end of the 18th. century five teenage girls need husbands with pedigrees. But how to get them when all the girls have is money and no connections? Their mothers decide that the girls should shine at a piano concert but first they need lessons. So a piano is bought a tutor provided and many hours are spent in lessons - not necessarily of the musical kind. One of the girls is being abused by her father and decides to turn the tables on the piano teacher and get her revenge on her father. All hell breaks loose.

The story starts off fairly light and amusing but soon becomes pretty dark. This is one I would definitely read again. 4/5 stars

 

Another library pick was Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Green Earth left me somewhat lukewarm but I wanted to give this one a bash. I tested it on my husband first though and it got his approval so no worries. Although ostensibly a space opera I read it as more a tale of the environment. The message I got from it was that you can't have a second Earth so you had better look after this one. I don't necessarily have to agree with that but it has made me think about it. Another 4/5 stars. 

 

The biggest disappointment for me this month was Robert A. Heinlein's I Will Fear No Evil. Set in the early 21st century this is the story of an old man who has his brain transplanted into the body of his young secretary (I should note that she is dead). Her 'soul' still inhabits the body and helps the new occupant to settle in. I have fond memories of reading this book a couple of decades ago but being the kind of reader who can't really remember what happened in a book after I close it, I couldn't remember the story, only that I enjoyed it so much. Having read it a second time I don't know why now. 3.5/5 stars

 

Finally, I come to Women All on Fire by Alison Plowden.

This time a non-fiction book about the Civil War. I found it interesting and easy to read, even for a newbie to the subject like me. There was enough background information to put everything in context without being overwhelming. 5 stars

 

Edit:

 

That's it for April. According to my calculations I'm about 4 books behind my challenge. I'm also lacking 3 German books and 3 classics but as my self-imposed challenge conditions are more guidelines than rules, who's cares? :)

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review 2017-02-25 00:28
A Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates
A Book of American Martyrs - Joyce Carol Oates

A special thank you to Edelweiss and Ecco for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

This was an incredible feat for both Joyce Carol Oates to write, and for me to finish.  The book is a huge undertaking, both ambitious in length and subject matter, and it left me confused.  I’m confused as to why it needed to be so long, and confused at some of the characters (more on that later).  What Oates does exceptionally well is write, but that doesn’t mean that the book needs to be as robust to showcase her talent.  It would have been more effective if it was trimmed because she loses readers in the minor events that don’t propel the story forward. 

 

The story opens with the reader inside the head of Luther Dunphy, a religious fanatic who thinks he is doing God’s work when he calls in late to work one day so that he can assassinate Dr. Gus Voorhees, an abortionist for the Broome County Women’s Center. 

 

Oates segues into Dunphy’s back story outlining his motivations and ideologies.  The story bogs out here, but push through it before you bottom out and abandon the book.  In his younger days, Dunphy is every bit the monster he is when he kills Voorhees–he sexually assaulted women, and exhibited extremely violent behaviour– only this later version of him thinks he is safe under the cloak of religion.  The reader also learns that he is father wrought with guilt over the death of a child, a husband who cannot fix his wife’s depression, and a hard worker that battles chronic pain to support his family.  The sadness and destitute Luther feels seeks solace in the righting of a wrong; it isn’t murder, he is the ‘chosen one’.    

 

In the later chapters, we see into Gus Voorhees’ life.  He is equally as driven as Dunphy, convinced with rightness for his cause.  

 

We come to know both men’s families: the liberal, well-educated Voorheeses juxtaposed against the devout, poor Dunphys.  The families are left devastated in the wake of tragedy, forever changed, yet leading similar lives.  Both wives pull away from their families, both sets of siblings experience a wedge of grief that drives them apart.  Speaking of wives, I mentioned earlier that I was confused by some of the characters, and Jenna (Voorhees’ widow) is one of them.  Why did she abandon her children?  Why did she disappear from the hotel after scattering her husband’s ashes?  Was this just deliberate of Oates to draw another parallel between the two families?  I felt that this wasn’t behaviour that was driven by grief, it was just plain out of character and was just there to inflict more pain and tragedy on the Voorhees children.  

 

The story shifts gears again and focuses on the men’s daughters: Naomi Voorhees and Dawn Dunphy.  Naomi chronicles her dad’s life, fronted as a documentary, but really she is trying to make sense of the tragedy and how it has shaped who she is.  Stemming from a vicious attack in school, Dawn becomes a professional boxer and this is how she exerts control of her life.  The two meet when Naomi feigns interest in Dawn as the subject matter for a documentary about female boxers.  This is where Oates shines–when she explores the complex relationships and facets of their lives, the last third of the book is the best part.

 

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