MARYA by Joyce Carol Oates

MARYA

A Life
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Oates' "most personal" novel, as her publisher calls it, is also her smallest in scale. When we meet Marya Knauer, the novel's lean and secretive young heroine, she is an 8-year-old abandoned child in a squalid outpost of upstate New York; her father, a miner, has been murdered in a labor dispute and her mother, an alcoholic of whom Marya's memories are mostly cruel, has disappeared or been jailed. Living with the family of a kind but inattentive aunt and uncle, Marya fashions an identity that will carry her through ostracism, loneliness and, later, the determined pursuit of academic and literary honors: the identity of a gifted outsider. Unfortunately, Oates has chosen to render Marya's emotional development through a series of murky and flimsily connected vignettes, each having to do with a crucial character Marya encounters as she grows: an eccentric highschool teacher who encourages her to compete for a college scholarship and to write, and then succumbs to a nervous breakdown; a Roman Catholic priest who teaches her something about faith before he dies; a celebrated college professor who becomes her lover and dies; the editor of a literary journal who publishes her work, introduces her to an international literary coterie, and also dies. By employing characters as moody emotional object-lessons and then abrubtly jettisoning them, Oates may intend to suggest something about the difficulties of becoming a self-made woman or the jerkiness of modern life, but the result is contrived and unsatisfying: Most of the characters in this overwritten novel, including Marya, take on the otherwordly air of shadows stalking Oates' usual preoccupations: nihilism, feminism, death. In the end, when Marya, now 35, feels secure enough in her identity to contact her lost mother, the reader admires the novel's effort at closure and wants to care--but doesn't.
Pub Date: Feb. 24th, 1985
ISBN: 0452280206
Page count: 310pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1985




MORE BY JOYCE CAROL OATES

FictionBEAUTIFUL DAYS by Joyce Carol Oates
by Joyce Carol Oates
FictionA BOOK OF AMERICAN MARTYRS by Joyce Carol Oates
by Joyce Carol Oates