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Thursday, June 1, 2006

High Lonesome: Selected Stories 1966-2006

Posted on Thu, Jun 1, 2006 at 4:00 AM

High Lonesome: Selected Stories 1966-2006
Publishing House: Ecco Press
WorkNameSort: High Lonesome: Selected Stories 1966-2006
With each passing year, Joyce Carol Oates' literary production more resembles a seismic event ' a mountain range thrust up from the mysterious below. Nearly a hundred books in four decades, and she's nowhere near stopping; the latest peak in Oates' ever-expanding range is High Lonesome: Selected Stories 1966-2006. In a perfect world, this big, lavish collection will do for Oates what similar volumes did for Katherine Anne Porter and John Cheever.

Both of these writers were known (and awarded) in their time as novelists ' but they were really short-story scribes. And so is Oates. The thin, quick air of the short story has always kept her themes most steadily aloft. Her pell-mell prose can speed toward devastating, bloody conclusions. Violence and loss have been her themes all along, and the new work collected in High Lonesome reflects that. In Oates' vision, American life is marked by a primal agoraphobia, something we attempt to tame and name by domesticating the landscape and calling it the suburbs. When that fails, this instinct turns on the female body. Time and again in this book women are smacked, abused, threatened or bullied. In 'The Tryst,â?� a middle-age executive feeling the yaw of mortality plays fast and loose with a young girl's heart. She responds by slitting her wrists in his luxurious bathroom, splattering blood on his wife's towels. The pleasures of smashing up everything and starting anew ' or ending it all ' is never far from view in Oates' world. It's a kind of death wish that bubbles in life's mundane moments, giving the day a dangerous warble.

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