Joyce Carol Oates recommendations?

Joyce Carol Oates is going to be speaking here next week and I’m looking forward to hearing her.

But here’s the thing: I’ve hated everything I’ve ever read by her. I plowed through a couple of her novels many years ago when I was in a depressing period of my life, and they added a layer of angst that I didn’t need then and I don’t want now.

But she’s so prolific! Her characters are so complex! She’s so famous! She’s won the National Book Award! She gets her best ideas while VACUUMING!

We have nothing — nothing — in common. Except growing up in upstate New York.

Anyone have a recommendation for something that’s not terribly long or terribly depressing that I can whip through in my spare time in the next several days? Maybe some short stories? I downloaded a free excerpt of Little Bird of Heaven for the iPad before deciding whether or not to buy the e-book, but a couple of chapters into it I’m getting that creepy dark upstate New York vibe that I’ve spent decades escaping…

I’m not looking for pink ponies and rainbows, just something that won’t suck me into 600 pages of miserable people and their impossible lives.

Thanks for any suggestions.

13 comments to Joyce Carol Oates recommendations?

  • Haven’t read any of her work, but looking at her web site, Spotted Hyenas: A Romance, looks interesting.

  • Natasha

    Thanks for the suggestion! For some reason, your comment went into my spam folder.

  • I’m a huge Joyce Carol Oates fan, I’ve read over 40 of her novels and many short story collections. However, she is all about miserable people and their impossible lives — hence my attraction 😉

    So I don’t think I can recommend much that will give you a different experience. You might try Freaky Green Eyes (although it might be out of print, so perhaps not a good suggestion). As I recall it had an upbeat ending, but still, a dark view of family life. It’s YA-ish and a fairly brief read.

  • Natasha

    Y’know, I’m not at all surprised you’re a JCO fan. 🙂 I downloaded an excerpt of I Am No One You Know: Stories and think that that will be just right. I’m reading Curly Red right now. If that doesn’t push me over the brink, I’ll download the whole book and wallow for a while.

    I’m happy to entertain the miserable and impossible for a bunch of short stories, especially if there’s some believable character development happening.

    I just don’t want those folks to move in and take over my living room and my entire psyche, which is what seemed to happen with the earlier novels I read.

    Thanks for your suggestion. Too bad you’re on the other coast — you could come with me to her reading/talk!

  • Yes, too bad. Let me know what you think. I heard her interviewed at an event in San Francisco a few years ago, and she came across very light-hearted — she has a good sense of humor!

    • Natasha

      Plus, I read an interview in which she said she really DID get her best ideas vacuuming. I understand that — I usually have evil thoughts when I’m vacuuming, but they are generally geared toward killing the machine itself. I should figure out how to channel those evil thoughts into macabre fiction instead.

  • I’ve only read a few JCO short stories, but one of my sons gave me Blonde for my birthday … it’s long, so I expect I might be finished reading this time next year.

    You know, I’ve watched videos of two interviews with her and I, too, was surprised at her humor. Maybe she puts all her darkness into her writing.

  • Depressing and miserable stories do serve a valuable service. In reading them they somehow make those with depressing miserable lives seem to have it just a small bit better. Misery loves company,yes. But when you show up at the party with the prettiest dress, suddenly you don’t feel quite so ugly. I may add a few of these suggestions to my reading list. Somedays momma needs a new dress. 🙂

  • I was going to recommend her book “Solstice” before I saw that you didn’t want any recommendations about miserable people and their miserable lives. “Where are you going, where have you been” is a great short story, because it’s less depressing than it is a little bit scary/freaky. (This recommendation probably comes a little too late, but in case you’re still looking…)

    • Natasha

      Thanks! I will keep that in mind for my post-NaNo life, which I am assuming will eventually arrive.

      When I need a break from NaNo I will update my JCO post a little with brilliant reflections on her talk.

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