Expensive People, by Joyce Carol Oates

Richard murdered one of his parents when he was eleven, and now, eighteen, he is writing a memoir to tell us why and how he did it. As soon as he’s finished writing he’s going to kill himself, too.

That’s the conceit of Joyce Carol Oates’s third (published) novel. It’s the earliest of her novels I’ve read; it was published in 1968. I surprised myself by quite liking it. As I’ve mentioned before, Oates the novelist has never worked for me as do Oates the short story writer and Oates the diarist. But I like those other versions of her so much that I keep soldiering on through her novels anyway. This one was pretty good, I thought.

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In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, by Daniyal Mueenuddin

Nawab the electrician requests his employer, K.K. Harouni, give him a motorcycle. Saleema, a maidservant, looks to Rafik, a valet, for protection from Hassan, a cook. An American university student auditions for the hand of her Pakistani boyfriend before his rich, aristocratic parents. Murad the farmer requests that the party girl Lily set aside her wanton ways and become his faithful wife.

The same dramatic situation can be found somewhere in each of the linked stories in Mueenuddin’s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. Sometimes this dramatic situation is central to the story, sometimes peripheral, but it’s always there, flavoring the collection like a strong spice. Let’s call it the drama of supplication. According to Georges Polti’s odd but interesting theory of the thirty-six dramatic situations, these are the ingredients of the drama of supplication: a persecutor, a victim/suppliant, and an authority to be supplicated, who has the power to deliver the suppliant from their persecutor and whose decision is in doubt.

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The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates: 1973-1982

Last night I fell asleep too late, perusing, for the sixth or seventh time, The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates: 1973-1982. I don’t remember when this book first enwrapped me in its toils. I think it was because of the appearance of the hardcover edition, a fat red brick with yellow lettering on the spine. Not to pick it up when I saw it would have taken a stronger man.

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