Tuesday, January 15, 2008

4. "them" - Joyce Carol Oates

While it appears capitalized in this depiction of the cover, from what I've read by the author, it should be all lower-case letters: them.

This immediately thrusts the reader into choosing a side, them or us. The novel is about a brother (Jules) and sister (Maureen) who are struggling to become better versions of themselves while living in poverty-stricken Detroit in the 1950s and 60s. From childhood to the Detroit riots, we watch as they make heinous judgments and inane choices... prompting us to think of the characters as "them."

Meanwhile, the characters have their own issues with "them" - whom they consider the "Negroes, Jews, Irish, and spics." Or, in relationships, the siblings consider others "them" - always wanting more, always loving too much or not enough.

The editor in me thinks it's about 150 pages too long; the writer in me marvels at how she "gets away with" using words repetitively, yet I'm soothed by that written melody.

I was briefly thrown out of the novel's rhythm when Maureen writes a letter to an English professor named Joyce Carol Oates. Whuut? At the time (this was originally published in 1969), due to this nugget and a foreward that refers to the whereabouts of Maureen, many thought this was a nonfictional book. Not true, as Oates clarifies in the 2006 edition.

3.75 out of 5.0 Detroits.


~Becky said...

I just finished this book myself and I disliked it so much!
I actually put it down on 3 seperate occasions, but told myself I was going to finish it, no matter what. I did and I don't feel that I gained anything by finishing it.

Kristin Dodge said...

NTFSB - no time for shit books. You should have tossed it!

What was it that irked you? The selfish mom, the manipulative daughter? If not for the dead-on descriptions of various ideas of love, I would have thrown it out, too.