"Denise Noe is a sensitive and probing interpreter of literary works. She is remarkably well read and her fascinating, intriguing essays show how assiduously she has thought about my work."
-- Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates is arguably our most prolific and widely read serious writer today and certainly our most prolific serious woman writer. This brilliant author has garnered many awards since the beginning of her illustrious career. She has won First Prize in the O. Henry Awards, the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the National Book Award, the Lotos Club Award of Merit, and the Rea Award for the Short Story. The O. Henry Awards committee has given her a special award for unique achievement.
Oates has proven herself a writer of the most awesome range: a master of the short story and the novel, a poet and a playwright, a regular book reviewer and essayist. Oates is able to believably depict rich, middle-class, and poor people, men and women, children, teenagers, and adults of all ages, urban, rural, and suburban environments, migrant farmworkers, race car drivers, doctors, politicians, academics, attorneys, prostitutes, beauticians, ministers, housewives, models, and businesspeople. She writes in realistic, naturalistic, surrealistic, fantastic, and allegorical modes, often attempting (with extraordinary success) to synthesize them.
Oates has hardly been the subject of critical neglect, although her almost unbelievably immense literary output makes it difficult for any critic to do her even a minimum of justice. However, in reading critical essays about her works, I felt something was missing. By focusing on individual books or pairs of them, most commentators neglect the way certain very specific themes recur throughout much of her massive body of writing. One of these, the victim's role in violent crimes, served as the launching pad for this book because it is one of several common threads running through Oates' fiction — and because it is the most morally troublesome of all her recurrent themes. The odd demands and beautiful rewards of art, the peculiar position of the white poor in America, the special problems of African-Americans due to their history of discrimination and exclusion in a white racist society, and the baffling morbidity inherent in sexuality—together with the superficially contradictory power of sexuality to heal—are other recurrent Oates themes that I follow and attempt to tie together in this volume. I can only hope that I have made a small contribution to understanding the work of this most accomplished of contemporary authors.