What I lived for

Fiction by Joyce Carol Oates

photo: LaJoyce carol oatesrry D. Moore

This is a long book, 600 pages of smallish type. Too long, I would say. There are perhaps too many asides, too much remembering, that deter me from a second reading. But make no mistake, this book is great. While I was reading it I kept thinking what other books were in this style: John Dos Passos,  came to mind.


It is a tough book, a man’s book, it out Herod’s Herod: it is written from a male perspective, better than almost any other male writer. This is just staggering; I often wondered if it were not some trick, is Joyce a man, writing as a woman. No woman has ever written a novel like this before, gotten into a man’s skin. Never. Not too many men can.


For me, this book had a number of similarities with John Updike’s Rabbit at Rest . The way it covers so much of American life, society, business, sex, life in general. But Updike’s excellent book is superior, more direct, better fitted together, sweeter, covering more ground. But What I Lived For is up there with the best of the novels. It is all quality, all skill, it stands above most other novels. Yet it has it’s faults:  it drags out here and there, especially the first quarter, and the protagonist needs to have a more definite purpose.


I guess some people might not like this novel; they wouldn’t like the harsh language, the violence, the vivid sex scenes, it is their loss. It is an extraordinary novel, all class.

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