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In Rough Country: Essays and Reviews by…
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In Rough Country: Essays and Reviews

by Joyce Carol Oates

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I won a copy of this book through First Reads and I enjoyed Oates' insights into authors and their works. Her reviews are both unique and well thought out.
I wasn't at all sure how I would like the book because I tried to read We Were the Mulvaneys years ago and gave up because it was so awful. In essay form, at least, Oates is a good writer and I now have hope that I might like some of her fiction.
She had me with her through most of In Rough Country. That is, up until she praised poet Sharon Olds to the skies and called her rather offensive letter to Laura Bush (rejecting an invitation to the National Book Festival) "a model of tact and integrity". It was around this point that Oates' unfortunate political and social views, America-bashing, and description of God as "imaginary" became too much for me. I had to push myself to finish the last section of the book. This was something I has not been able to make myself do with We Were the Mulvaneys, so that's progress, I suppose. But I suspect the progress is mine rather than hers. Years ago, I was probably unable to finish the novel in large part because I was only in high school and I hadn't yet learned to slog through a book I didn't like. The last section of In Rough Country--the only one I didn't enjoy reading--is mostly about Oates' personal experiences and lack of a literary mentor. It has nothing of the zest of the previous reviews and essays. ( )
  Athenable | Jan 10, 2014 |
Joyce Carol Oates is a protean writer. That is her writing demonstrates a diversity and fecundity of style that is exceptional although not unique in my experience. Rather than devoting herself to one style or theme and honing that over many stories and novels, she has explored myriad ways to tell stories over a career that has produced more than three dozen novels (not counting those she has written under a pseudonym). I remember being mesmerized by the beauty of Wonderland; however not nearly as impressed with the tragic family saga We Were the Mulvaneys; and unable to finish tomes like Bellefleur. I even read and enjoyed one of her "entertainments" written under a pseudonym. It is not surprising that she is widely read, and a prescient critic of literature. There is a double meaning for this collection of previously published literary essays and reviews, “In Rough Country.” “It refers to both the treacherous geographic/psychological terrains of the writers who are my subjects. And also the emotional terrain of my life,” she writes in the preface. It’s an especially evocative parallel when you consider a pair of essays in the collection also titled “In Rough Country” (set apart from each other with Roman numerals). In the first, she examines the ecstatic violence of Cormac McCarthy’s work, in the second the brutal naturalism of Annie Proulx’s fiction. Rough country, indeed.
Thus it is her skill at criticism that is on display in this readable collection of essays. Just as she has with her own fiction and poetry, she displays a variety of interests and styles sometimes regaling the reader with biographical morsels, as in her essay on Edgar Allan Poe. I appreciated learning that some of my formative reading paralleled Oates' even as I admire her criticism and the immensity of her oeuvre. ( )
1 vote jwhenderson | Jan 8, 2013 |
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Here was a mystery!--in our near-bookless farmhouse in upstate New York twenty miles north of Buffalo and approximately that distance south of Lake Ontario, in the region known stoically by its inhabitants as the Snow Belt, there was a book--battered as if water-stained, aged-looking, austere in its dark binding--intriguingly titled The Gold Bug.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061963984, Paperback)

In twenty-nine provocative essays, Joyce Carol Oates maps the "rough country" that is both the treacherous geographical and psychological terrain of the writers she so cogently analyzes—Flannery O'Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Philip Roth, E. L. Doctorow, and Margaret Atwood, among others—and the emotional terrain of Oates's own life following the unexpected death of her husband, Raymond Smith, after forty-eight years of marriage.

"As literature is a traditional solace to the bereft, so writing about literature can be a solace, as it was to me when the effort of writing fiction seemed beyond me, as if belonging to another lifetime," Oates writes. "Reading and taking notes, especially late at night when I can't sleep, has been the solace, for me, that saying the Rosary or reading The Book of Common Prayer might be for another." The results of those meditations are the essays of In Rough Country—balanced and illuminating investigations that demonstrate an artist working at the top of her form.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:28 -0400)

This new collection brings together some of Joyce Carol Oates' most brilliant and provocative pieces, covering a diverse range of subjects and ideas. The rough country is both the treacherous geographical/psychological terrains of the writers she analyses--Flannery O'Connor, Shirley Jackson, Cormac McCarthy, Annie Proulx, and Margaret Atwood among others--and also the emotional terrain of Oates' own life following the unexpected death of her husband.… (more)

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