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Broke Heart Blues (edition 1999)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0452280346, Paperback)If our age's ascendant idol is celebrity, then Joyce Carol Oates's conceit in Broke Heart Blues--that such worship is as compelling as in any less secular era--is both insight and affront. Set primarily in an affluent Buffalo, New York, suburb in the mid-'60s, the novel's charismatic core is high-school sensation John Reddy Heart, a local legend whose faultless, James Dean cool is so penetrating that it colors his peers' lives--even as his Christ-like transfiguration removes him from their orbit. As always, Oates's chronicling of her many characters is fairly astonishing in its scope, while the allegorical sheen of the book allows her to probe an often ambivalent fascination.
When the young John Reddy first arrives in town, he--as well as his beautiful and dissolute mother--becomes an object of instant awe. Handsome, dangerous, and inscrutable, he transforms steadily into a near-rumor, his every act lore-worthy, his habits the stuff of endless speculation. "Though he enters you through the eyes, he's someone you feel," observes one classmate. While his allure is, initially, mostly physical--the boys want to emulate him, the girls want to lose their virginity to him--John Reddy eventually becomes transcendent: that someone like him exists is a challenge to the drab and predictable trajectories of his classmates' lives. When one of his mother's lovers is killed, and the evidence seemingly points to John Reddy himself, a feverish martyrdom ensues, a self-sacrifice that is, we discover, more tangled and exacting than his disciple-like peers can imagine.
Oates, admirably, takes many chances in Broke Heart Blues, not the least of which is a frequent first-person plural narrator that, while allowing both a broad and immediate view of the proceedings, often seems thickly undifferentiated, a device for emphasizing the insular nature of rumor. John Reddy's identification with Christ (and the trinity he forms with his mother and grandfather) is a difficult maneuver as well, making him less a viable protagonist than a central cipher, an accretion of conjecture and myth. When, after a lengthy detour into the prosaic aftermath of John Reddy's high school career, we see his classmates at their 30-year reunion in Second Coming posture, longing for a John Reddy sighting, the endurance of celebrity becomes not only plain but pathetic. The cult of personality may lead to redemption, but life, inevitably, is what transpires in the interval. --Ben Guterson
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 14 Feb 2013 13:45:56 -0500)
A teenager in 1960s Buffalo kills his mother's abusive lover and becomes the town's legend. The story is told from various points of view, each a projection of a person's fantasies. A look at how and why legends are created.
(summary from another edition)
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