Monday, September 22, 2008

Review: Wild Nights!

I am a big fan of Joyce Carol Oates. I encountered her through reading contemporary fiction. First, I picked up her bestseller, We Were the Mulvaneys. I followed with Middle Age: A Romance. As I've explored her canon I've been amazed at how diverse and productive she is. Oates has published so much, in so many genres; it's truly impressive. When I saw this book on the new releases shelf in the library I had to check it out. From here I'm sure I'll be looking more closely at Oates's horror books; The Female of the Species currently resides in my TBR pile. And here's my review of Wild Nights!

This short story collection examines the last days and nights of five prolific American writers, from Poe to Hemingway. Together these five tales describe five eminent writers on the brink of despair and madness that culminates in their deaths. The stories vary in the extent to which they depart from realistic portraits of these authors' deaths. While Oates's treatment of Hemingway's death could conceivably be a factual rendering, those of Poe and Dickinson are far more fanciful, and depart from the historical record. Together, these stories create a riveting and unusual collection. Because the reader knows from the outset that each of these tales ends in death, the narratives flow with significant dramatic tension. From the beginning of each story the reader gets a sense of how each author will meet his or her end. As they move toward this preordained conclusion tension builds for the reader, as he or she discovers just how his or her assumptions will play out. Oates does an excellent job of adopting the voice and persona of each of the writers in question. Each story has its own flavor and style. Hemingway's story reads with the stark prose one might expect from the man, and Poe's narrative reads like a nineteenth-century Gothic tale. Overall, this was a very enjoyable read, one that showcases Oates's remarkable versatility, and reaffirms her place as a master of psychological suspense.

Joyce Carol Oates, Wild Nights!: Stories about the Last Days of Poe, Dickinson, Twain, James, and Hemingway (Ecco, 2008) ISBN: 0061434795


xicanti said...

Ooh, I like the sound of this! Thanks for the review!

Laurie said...

You're welcome- it really is a very good book!

Nicole said...

I have Middle Age: A Romance and I have yet to be able to finish it. And I actually think it's good. I think that she spends so much time is a particular section and then it would me hard for me to get into the next section because I was so thoroughly with the other people; which i guess is a good thing. But once I put the book down after the first part I never got back to it. I'm still trying.