Uncensored: Views & (Re)views is Joyce Carol Oates's most candid gathering of prose pieces since (Woman) Writer: Occasions & Opportunities. Her ninth book of nonfiction, it brings together thirty-eight diverse and provocative pieces from the New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, and the New York Times Book Review.
Oates states in her preface, "In the essay or review, the dynamic of storytelling is hidden but not absent," and indeed, the voice of these "conversations" echoes the voice of her fiction in its dramatic directness, ethical perspective, and willingness to engage the reader in making critical judgments. Under the heading "Not a Nice Person," such controversial figures as Sylvia Plath, Patricia Highsmith, and Muriel Spark are considered without sentimentality or hyperbole; under "Our Contemporaries, Ourselves," such diversely talented figures as William Trevor, E. L. Doctorow, Kazuo Ishiguro, Michael Connelly, Alice Sebold, Mary Karr, Anne Tyler, and Ann Patchett are examined. In sections of "homages" and "revisits," Oates writes with enthusiasm and clarity of such cultural icons as Emily Brontė, Ernest Hemingway, Carson McCullers, Robert Lowell, Balthus, and Muhammad Ali ("The Greatest"); after a lapse of decades, she (re)considers the first film version of Bram Stoker's Dracula, and Americana, Don DeLillo's first novel, as well as the morality of selling private letters and the nostalgic significance of making a pilgrimage to Henry David Thoreau's Walden Pond.
Through these balanced and illuminating essays we see Oates at the top of her form, engaged with forebears and contemporaries, providing clues to her own creative process: "For prose is a kind of music: music creates 'mood.' What is argued on the surface may be but ripples rising from a deeper, subtextual urgency."
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Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, and has been several times nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award, and the New York Times bestseller The Falls, which won the 2005 Prix Femina. Her most recent novel is A Book of American Martyrs. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.From Publishers Weekly:
The prolific, bestselling novelist Oates wears a critic's hat in this tastefully textured compilation of prose pieces. Guided by her overarching desire "to call attention solely to books and writers that merit such attention, and to avoid whenever possible reviewing books 'negatively' except in those instances in which the 'negative' is countered by an admiring consideration of earlier books by the same author," Oates has achieved a delicate critical balance-gracefully sidestepping the Dale Peck approach to reviewing while eschewing the temptation to dish pat, effusive praise. As a result, her essays, never grating nor bland, engage the reader with their refreshing honesty. She does not hesitate to expose the various contrivances of Patricia Highsmith, particularly as they pertain to the short story, for which, Oates suggests, Highsmith possessed "perhaps little natural skill." Similarly, Oates challenges Anita Brookner's solipsistic insistence that self-analysis "'is an art form in itself.'" Other highlights include her look at the "new memoir" of crisis as seen through Alice Sebold's Lucky, her take on the exhibition of essentially private writing (Sylvia Plath's journals, J.D. Salinger's letters to Joyce Maynard, etc.) and her questioning of the "restoration" of literary works, a process she explores vis-ą-vis a scholarly re-release of Robert Penn Warren's classic, All the King's Men. Envisioned as "a conversation among equals," this collection covers the literary gamut-from spirited icons like Hemingway and Carson McCullers to quieter, more unassuming contemporaries such as Pat Barker, Ann Patchett and William Trevor-and even makes room for the occasional homage to a trailblazing athlete (Muhammad Ali), a film idol (Bela Lugosi) and an art world sensation (Balthus). Fortunately for readers, Oates does not spare herself either, turning that discerning dialogue inward to candidly discuss her own writing process.
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