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Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Tattooed Girl by Joyce Carol Oates

Image result for tattooed girl joyce carol oatesJoyce Carol Oates is not my favorite writer, but for all the repetition of her themes of fragile women being imperiled by evil masculine forces they masochistically desire, she does occasionally publish something both compelling and well written. I detested "Beasts" and "The Falls" since she exercises her familiar dreads in contrasting lengths, the first book a slender novella, the latter a literal brick, both books sounding rushed, fevered, and breathless, as first drafts of novels usually do. Or a finished Oates novel, for that matter. She does hammer that nail effectively and brutally as often as not, however, as she did with  her novels "Black Water" and " The Tattoo Girl"; with the right configuration, her usual wit's end prose style and fascination with fragile psyches and marginally psychotic psychologies get as intense as fiction is ever likely to get." Zombie" is a rather potent little psychodrama, and it's the kind of writing Oates excels at. She gets to the heart of the fringe personality better than anyone I can think of. 

"The Tattooed Girl", from 2003, is likewise a well shaped melodrama. She depicts the thinking of women who allow themselves to be beaten and killed with seemingly scary exactitude. Oates can also be a bore, evident in We Were Mulvaneys and "The Falls". My fascination with her continues, though, since it's impossible to tell when she publishes another novel that will be gripping and unnerving. I agree with the assessment on Oates. She writes so much that she's almost as undercooked and sometimes awful as she is brilliant. Producing novels at such an assembly line clip seems a compulsion. We Were Mulvaneys read like it was meant to capture some of the weepy women's market and I put it down, and Beasts was a novella of abuse that was better left in the manila envelope, as it was a flat litany of sexual assaults that she's done better before. But just as you think Oates is all used up, she surprises you. "The Tattooed Girl" was an amazing book, as was "The Falls", with their portents of violence, domination, skewed rationalization of unworthy deeds. She has made an art of the dystopian personality, and it is here that she gets greatness.


 She merits a bit of respect, although you wish she'd stop trying to win the Nobel Prize so obviously with her tool-and-dye production and take longer to write a novel a reader didn't have to rationalize about. Editors hold much less sway in the preparation of a book, it seems. It's not just a matter of writers who write quickly getting away with redundant excess and awkward passages, such as Oates and Stephen King. Those who take their time also seem to avoid the more severe markings of the editor's blue pencil . 

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