Readings: Joyce Carol Oates, Queen of Contemporary Social Gothic, Returns

Languid and at the same time expressive, the fragile appearance of the American writer Joyce carol oates (Lockport, New York, 1938) suggests the characters of Tim BurtonOnly that at 83 years old he can no longer hide his intrepid way of standing before the world. Between social realism and southern Gothic, always in the dark, Oates’s work already forms a rushing river. Throughout his career, he published more than a hundred books that delve, in the most diverse ways, into violence and criminal obsession to reveal the profound crisis in North American society.

Oates, another perennial candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, can be recognized by the revealing way in which her obsessions are portrayed in her great novels. For example, in the relatively recent Cartaghe (2014), tells the story of a girl who disappears and who may have been killed by a veteran of the Iraq war. Even so, the American writer is not limited to a style and black and rugged themes. He also freely explores diverse genres, such as reflections on his first marriage (in Memoirs of a widow) or the extraordinary voice with which he narrates the life of Marilyn Monroe (in Blonde).

It is impossible to summarize all their titles. Since he released his first anthology of short stories in 1963, Oates has never stopped publishing: sixty novels, four hundred short stories, several dramatic pieces, children’s books, essays, and eleven collections of poetry. That’s how versatile and prolific JCO is.

Cardiff by the sea, of 2020 and which is already published in Spanish, gathers under the same cover, in the absence of one, four short novels. The first, which gives the collection its title, revolves around an original secret. Clare, a 30-year-old woman, knows she was adopted before she was three, but is ignorant of everything about her blood parents’ history. Until he receives the inheritance from his biological grandmother, a country house, and travels to meet his past. In this way, she meets characters as grotesque as they are tender who help her unravel what her memory had buried. The interior monologues that are interspersed with the narration –a distinctive feature of the author’s writing–, together with what is omitted, generate a psychological suspense that maintains the reading tension until the last line.

TO Cardiff by the sea follow him Miao Dao. Once again the protagonist is a teenage girl who lives in a broken home and suffers the harassment of her classmates, first, and, later, that of her stepfather. Only, this second time, he has allies: a family of wild cats that inhabit the neighboring land. It is the only one of these plots in which Oates addresses a threshold story, between the real and the supernatural, and achieves an ending that could be called happy. At least as happy as possible in their universes.

In the third story Spooky: 1973, on the other hand, the same is not the case. It tells the life of a university student who is a lover of a professor, and little by little, she begins to suffer harassment. The escalation of violence, as usual in Oates’s poetics, overflows into torrential and destructive cruelty.

Close the collection The boy who survived, which is also dedicated to a sick, uneven love and, of course, a horrifying event. Elizabeth marries a man nearly twenty years her senior who has a 10-year-old son. The boy was with his mother and sister when they both died from inhaling toxic gases from the car in the garage of the family home, only he inexplicably managed to survive. In this case, the resonances with the suicide of poets like Sylvia Plath, and the influence that her husband Ted Hughes had, adds a turn of literary sense to the reading.

As in each of his narratives, the strongest scenes are tensed with a special mastery to expose the sinister through the game between the silenced and the visceral. The atmosphere of nouvelles from Cardiff by the sea leads to associate them with the psychological thriller of the four narratives gathered in So close at all times always, in which the author also addresses the disturbance of love, submission and abuse in the most intimate relationships.

Each of Oates’s stories are the best example of his artistic independence, for the tenacity with which he turns a deaf ear to the insistent criticism of sensationalism in the violent parts. The elegance of his style, in contrast to the horror that swarms in his plots, makes his scenes imprint on the conscience in a lasting way. In doing so, he takes the Southern Gothic tradition of William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor further: he manages to turn up the volume on gender traits to capture the prevalence of social violence in today’s world. His supposed sensationalism is actually heartbreaking naturalism.

Other recent examples that have been translated into Spanish allow the reader to confirm how he methodically exposes the darkness of the spirit of these times in his country. In Informer, a work in a social key, a girl is torn between truth and loyalty in a racist and sexist community. In a family novel like the one celebrated The Gravedigger’s Daughter She fictionalizes her own grandmother’s life through the character of Rebecca, a woman who makes herself after escaping the Holocaust. Still, the writer seems to laugh a bit at the fatality of her characters, and sensitively tries to delve into their psychology to expose the roots of a trauma that usually also comes from the environment. That the majority are women is not by chance. Some perish; others, those with better luck, manage to survive the monster of contemporaneity posed by Oates.

Cardiff by the sea

By Joyce Carol Oates

Fjord. Trans .: Ariadna Molinari Tato

405 pages / $ 1800

1639797413 263 Readings Joyce Carol Oates Queen of Contemporary Social Gothic Returns

Carthage

By Joyce Carol Oates

Alfaguara. Trans .: José Luis López Muñoz

670 pages / $ 2349

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Readings: Joyce Carol Oates, Queen of Contemporary Social Gothic, Returns