Likely Stories: Soul at the White Heat by Joyce Carol Oates, Part Two

May 25, 2017

A collection of essays by – IMHO -- the premier woman of letters today.


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

About a month ago, I began a three-part review of Soul at the White Heat: Inspiration, Obsession, and the Writing Life by Joyce Carol Oates.  Part One dealt with essays by Oates about the “Writing Life.”  We now turn to “Part Two,” which deals with reviews of “classic” authors. 

My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead starts off this section.  Middlemarch is one of my most loved stories of the 19th century.  Mead’s work involves a little known genre, the bibliomemoir.  I have a couple of these in my collection and they are always enjoyable excursions through literary fiction backed up by a non-fiction memoir.  U and I by Nicholson Baker examines the author’s connection to John Updike.  Sharing points of intersection with these works is a real rush.

Oates discusses an author I recently discovered who has captured my imagination.  Georges Simenon, born 1903 and died 1989, has me scrambling to find more of his work.  He has written nearly 400 titles, including seventy-five showcasing the detective, Inspector Maigret.  Oates points out that his novellas have given birth to the genre.  She writes, “A ‘simenon’ is a sparely constructed novella” by the phenomenal Belgian-born Georges Simenon” (108).  I can only add to my collection by accidentally stumbling on a book here and there.  A thorough search might bankrupt my book budget.

In “Two American Prose Masters: John Updike, Ralph Ellison” Oates examines the work of my number one favorite author, John Updike.  She describes his work as, “brilliantly condensed, intensely lyric homage to the voice of another American contemporary, J. D. Salinger.”  She Mentions “A&P” as the story “most anthologized, as it is likely the Updike story most readily accessible to young readers” (117).  In my literature classes, I always compare this story, “A&P” to a wonderful James Joyce story, “Araby.”  Both demonstrate a young boys coming of age in difficult situations.  Updike was an outstanding and prolific short story writer, and I cannot recommend him more highly.

“A Visit with Dorris Lessing” – another of my favorite authors – enlightened me as to the inner workings of Doris’s mind and how she constructed her writings.  She had an interesting life’.  Oates writes, “Doris Lessing is direct, womanly, very charming.  She wears her long, graying black hair drawn into a bun at the back of her head; her face is slender and attractive” (122).  Oates admits she “had been reading and admiring her for so long.  Meeting her at last I felt almost faint – certainly unreal – turning transparent myself in the presence of this totally defined, self-confident, gracious woman” (122). 

There is so much more to Soul at the White Heat: Inspiration, Obsession, and the Writing Life by Joyce Carol Oates than I can ever hope to reveal in a brief review.  However, anyone interested in writing, reading, and collecting will find this volume most enjoyable.  5 Stars.  Stay tuned for Part Three.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  You can read more at RabbitReaderBlog.com.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and HAPPY READING!