A nice first course of Oates
- Jill Spitznass
- Portland Tribune - Features
But even hungry fans won't find a full meal in the author's latest
It's her own fault that Joyce Carol Oates has created a monstrous appetite in her readers. Her ability to churn out hugely popular novels and short stories keeps fans anxiously awaiting her next work.
But even for the author of smash novels such as 'Them,' 'We Were the Mulvaneys' and 'You Must Remember This,' not every story line is going to be stellar Ñ particularly when one has written 39 novels in almost as many years.
Such is the case with Oates' recently released novel, 'I'll Take You There.' While the story is original and at times engrossing, Oates-ophiles will find this book only mildly satisfying, a literary dish to tide them over until something substantial is served.
'I'll Take You There' includes many of the author's favorite themes, including class tension, sexual obsession and near-sociopathic emotional angst.
The protagonist is a young woman attending New York's Syracuse University as a scholarship student in the early 1960s. Despite her wit and intelligence, the coed Ñ whose name is never revealed to the reader Ñ is shackled by both her own emotionally distraught childhood and the challenges facing women in the pre-feminist era.
She joins a popular sorority and then realizes that the girls are only interested in the academic services she can provide, and that she is ill-equipped Ñ financially and psychologically Ñ to fit in with the sophisticated group. Her madness-tinged exit from the sorority is vintage Oates: a dark, unsettling passage that will ring true for those familiar with the often bizarre rituals of the Greek system.
Freed from the constraints of the sorority, the young woman soon falls prey to another form of obsession, seeking the attention of an eloquent graduate student in her philosophy class. Drawn in by his fierce intelligence, she decides that only the love of this man can help her form the sense of identity she lacks.
The fact that he's black doesn't bother her, even with the era's taboos against interracial relationships. Despite his reluctance to get involved with the emotionally fragile woman, he succumbs to her unrelenting adoration. The result is a tumultuous affair that begins to unravel when she uncovers the past he's running from.
She emerges from the relationship damaged, but with a stronger sense of self, which she'll need to face a final, surprising revelation about the father who abandoned her.
Although the ending of 'I'll Take You There' pales in relation to the balance of the book, the whole is engaging enough to satisfy the Oates addict until her next novel is released Ñ which is probably right about now.