Joyce Carol Oates: A Study of the Short Fiction

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Joyce Carol Oates is often called America's most prolific living writer, but it is perhaps her versatility that is most astounding. Just as she is a revered novelist, playwright, poet, and critic, the short stories gathered in her 21 published collections - from By the North Gate (1963) to Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque (1994) - vary in theme and style, although all evoke the bedrock natural and social reality that has consistently informed her fiction. In this comprehensive survey of Oates's stories, Greg Johnson selects eight of her collections that he considers most representative of her work and among her most successful books. He analyzes stories in which Oates experiments with form, genre, allusion, and Gothicism and presents postmodern allegories of American life. Separate chapters are devoted to Oates's early Eden County stories in By the North Gate and Upon the Sweeping Flood (1966), her stories focused on female experience in The Wheel of Love (1970) and The Goddess and Other Women (1974), her experimentation with fictional form and genre in Marriages and Infidelities (1972) and Night-Side (1977), and her recent work in Raven's Wing (1986) and Heat (1991), dealing with the psychology and culture of contemporary life. The volume's second part presents a 1981 interview with Oates (conducted by Sanford Pinsker), as well as a copious selection of Oates's writing about her stories and the form generally - a discussion of her early stories; separate appraisals of "Funland," "Heat," "The Swimmers," and "Why Don't You Come Live with Me It's Time"; her response to the question "Is there a female voice?"; and her comments on the translation of short story into film. Part 3 consists of four critical essays - by scholars Marilyn C. Wesley, Daniel L. Zins, Robert McPhillips, and Gretchen Schulz - commissioned specifically for this volume, as well as previously published essays by William Abrahams, Elaine Showalter, and Elizabeth Pochoda. Johnson's exploration of the stories he considers key to an understanding of Oates's mastery of the genre is essential reading for students of Oates's work and of the contemporary American short story.

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