LAST DAYS by Joyce Carol Oates

LAST DAYS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Oates' stories, often so unwieldy in their excess length, can and do occasionally mold to a successful shape: the story that's told from far back, for example, the tale that summarily telescopes an entire life. Such a story, and the best of this collection, is "The Man Whom Women Adored," about an outrageously successful yet modest Don Juan--and it is thanks to its precis quality that it succeeds; instead of trafficking in intimate scenes, it provides a satisfying long view of a life that's very suited to Oates' amplitude. (By way of contrast is the title story, about a young Jewish genius who assassinates a rabbi in a synagogue during services, then kills himself; here the case-study is too close-in, hence airless and forced, and not nearly as successful.) Also effective: a tale in Oates' gothic/injury mode--about an ex-mental-patient who becomes a stepmother, and is then abandoned with the stepchildren. Unfortunately, however, this collection is badly weighed down by a number of travel stories--in which celebrity-writer Oates converts {and justifies?) her semi-official literary journeys to writers' conferences and cultural congresses into a very thin, outrageously padded kind of fiction. ("A sort of bombed-out wasteland here, a zone of abandoned houses, weedy paper-strewn vacant lots, ancient billboards, posters in tatters, even a few hulks of cars. As one nears the Wall the curious thing is, history is left behind.") Furthermore, these quasi-autobiographical pieces often involve the romantic adventures at each stop (never convincing) of a stick-figure-like female character. A few real stories, then, but mostly skippable Oates trivia.
Pub Date: Aug. 22nd, 1984
ISBN: 0525482059
Page count: 241pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1986




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