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My Heart Laid Bare by Joyce Carol Oates
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My Heart Laid Bare (1999)

by Joyce Carol Oates

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My Heart Laid Bare is a creation from an epic imagination—what a beautiful thing for a writer to enjoy, especially to use it to produce something so grand is a labor of love. Joyce Carol Oates is quite the creative dynamo—I’ve lost count of how many stories she’s written, and I have yet to buy let alone read all of them. One thing for sure, she loves words, she comes out to play with them; part of her process is becoming possessed by the story that she must tell—wringing out every last ounce of the tale tucked deep in the darkest corners of her mind. Writing like this is an exhausting and exhilarating process (not for the faint of heart) and at times can be the same exhausting and exhilarating experience for the reader. The books of the American Gothic Saga series never cease to amaze me with their complexity—they are larger than life stories chock full of larger than life characters—the head shaking unbelievable meshed with the head nodding believable. Abraham Licht’s family of My Heart Laid Bare is one of notorious distinction; seductive connivers, charming chameleons—they are perfectly flawed, blessed and damned—dichotomies of grotesque beauty—I could go on, but I will leave it at that—I don’t want to spoil it with details. As with any book from this series, it is best to approach these pages with an open mind and a sense of humor—for to take it too seriously (or literally) will only lead to vexation—the Gothics are unlike the rest of her fiction—yet where they diverge in their unique qualities, they complement each other too. This novel possesses a life of its own; the charisma of the characters makes this book so—evocative—macabre—dazzling—emotionally intense. Oh, I was sad to see it end. I love it for its lush writing style, daring to be gluttonous with its descriptions and it’s absolutely dripping with atmosphere—the American Gothic Sagas are my guilty pleasure. This book is the fourth out of five in the series—I’m glad there is one more left to read! The Accursed release date is March 2013… ( )
  LauraJWRyan | Jan 25, 2013 |
What happens if there is a father of 7 children who gives them all quality time and ballet lessons and music lessons, and says that he loves each equally, but just happens to be one of the most skillful scam artists of the (fictional) early 20th century. Not only does he have a master touch for reeling in suckers, but when each fraud in turn goes sour or turns unprofitable, he can walk away without getting caught. For decades.
His enthusiasm is infectious. His kids are caught up in it. I was caught up in it. The guy is a scumbag, but by some mysterious combination of his innate character and the author's presentation of same, I felt myself rooting for him. That's terrible!
How could I do such a thing, knowing that he tells dozens of lies everyday to his family and everyone he comes in contact with.
I kept waiting for him to bump accidentally in the street into one of the hundreds--wait, thousands--of marks that he preyed upon throughout his life.
Just like many of the men in the book, I am in envy of his success with women. I am honest, and not a crook like him; why don't any women like me as much as they like him?
The saddest part of this book is how the children are trapped in the spiritual prison erected by their father. The physical boundaries that exist during the periods when they live at the edge of a swamp are minimal by comparison. In fact, he takes them--and I mean selected ones, not the whole brood--travelling all over the Eastern United States.
So his love of the children is not equal after all. The only ones he takes with him are the ones that can be his pawns in whatever newest scheme is being initiated. The fifth and sixth children are not judged by the father as capable of "The Game," meaning not capable of being an active part of one of their father's swindles, and not able to create an air-tight lie on the spot when a doubtful bystander happens to question them. (Should their father be momentarily absent.)
Please read this book if you want to find a window onto the early 20th century history of the U.S.A., including not too much shining virtue, contrasted with a heap of treacherous conniving.
  libraryhermit | Jan 12, 2011 |
3 generations carry on English confidence man's legacy

1.90 ( )
  aletheia21 | Nov 10, 2006 |
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Epigraph
If any ambitious man have a fancy to revolutionize, at one effort, the universal world of human thought, human opinions, and human sentiment, the opportunity is his own - the road to immortal renown lies straight, open, unencumbered before him. All that he has to do is write and publish a very little book. Its title shoudl be simple - a few plain words - "My Heart Laid Bare." But this little book must be true to its title. No man dare write it. No man could write it, even if he dared. THe paper would shrivel and blaze at every touch of the fiery pen. - Edgar Allen Poe, 1848
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For Randy Souther
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She ws not a Londoner by birth, she was very likely not even English by birth, you could hear it in her voice.
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Book description
In a striking departure, JCO brings us a sweeping novel of the fortunes and misfortunes of a family of enterprising confidence artists in nineteenth-century America. In 1891, Abraham Licht arrives in Muirkirk to establish his criminal dynasty. Like a biblical patriarch, he sees his immortality in his sons, Thurston and Harwood; his daughter, Millicent; and Elisha, his adopted child and true heir in talent and ambition. But Licht's own mortality lies in the faroff past, in lady's maid Sarah Licht. It is Sarah's spirit that haunts their story, as Abraham and his clan move with consummate ease through the newly expanding country, from scheme to dazzling scheme. From the virgin provinces of NY State to the rough-and-tumble western frontier...from the political back rooms of Washington D.C., to the Atlantic City of the Gilded Age...for Carnegie Hall to Harlem in the twenties and thirties. My Heart Laid Bare tells the story of an unforgettable family, as strongly possessed of the power to decieve as they are of the power to love. (0-452-28006-0)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0452280060, Paperback)

In this Joyce Carol Oates's novel, a New England confidence man teaches his children the tricks of his trade and sends them out into the world to relieve suckers of their money. The book traces the Licht family's fortunes through the first three decades of the 20th century, as the children come of age, master their talents, and grow away from their father's beliefs. Abraham Licht is a charming but sinister man who is extremely attached to the haunted swamp adjacent to the family home. He schools his children in the arts of assuming new identities and turning one's back on the past, skills which Oates suggests come quite easily to Americans. Licht advises his youngest son, a boy ill-suited to grift, to "assemble your selves with grace," by which he means, be duplicitous and excel at it! Do not bare your heart! However, Abraham's lessons don't stick--one by one, Papa Licht's children let him down. The youngest son becomes a talented musician and composer, while the younger sister devotes herself to a life of helping others as a nurse and suffragette. The other children stick to grift but distance themselves from their father, which breaks his devilish heart. My Heart Laid Bare is a tragic family epic. It is a complicated, ambitious book crammed with ideas, crisply drawn characters, and American history. As Oates unfurls the tragedy, she describes many of the social movements of the early 20th century and posits that this country was shaped by charming, talented liars like the Lichts. --Jill Marquis

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:53:39 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A novel on a family of swindlers, following several generations of men and women as they exploit human greed, love, or just plain gullibility, all in the name of the game. Occasionally, they help things along with a murder.

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