A bad joke says writing is easy if you don’t know how to do it. This collection is a personal appreciation and piercing analysis of those who do it sublimely: Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, Jean Stafford, Roald Dahl (considered in his adult work), Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Philip Roth, Claire Messud, and others. Oates is drawn to writers and themes that inform her own work, such as the gothic, the satiric, feminist theory, and a humanist bent that seems to have gone out of fashion. Readers of the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker, or TLS will be familiar with these essays (though sometimes in different form or with different titles), divided into three parts—“Classics,” “Contemporaries,” and “Nostalgias.” Some essays—on the smothered brothers, Homer and Langley Collyer; on boxing; on Annie Leibovitz—are not strictly literary. In the Nostalgias section, Oates skewers American jingoism, notes the influence of Lewis Carroll on childhood, and returns to her source, Lockport, N.Y. Oates attributes the book’s existence to the death of her husband of 48 years (reading gave shape to her “uncharted life as a widow”), but it is inspired as much by the subjects Oates so astutely describes. (June 29)
Reviewed on: 04/26/2010 Release date: 06/01/2010 Genre: Nonfiction
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