THE RISE OF LIFE ON EARTH by Joyce Carol Oates

THE RISE OF LIFE ON EARTH

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A battered child grows up to become a homicidal nurse's aide--in this depressing, minor addition to Oates's oeuvre. When Kathleen Hennessy's younger sister, Nola, is murdered, 12-year-old Kathleen is removed at once from the Detroit motel room where both girls were regularly beaten by their unemployed father and abandoned by their mother, a beauty-parlor worker. Kathleen's father is imprisoned for Nola's murder, while Kathleen is placed in a dreary foster home where her half-forgotten memories of having pounded Nola's head against the edge of a mattress frame to stop her crying are buried beneath a passive, shy, obedient persona that appeals to her harried guardian. Some time later, after Kathleen has silently suffered repeated sexual abuse at the hands of her foster brother, the house in which she lives burns down "accidentally," killing several inhabitants--but no one thinks to suspect the overweight, shyly smiling teen-aged girl of wrongdoing. Kathleen grows into a self-effacing young nurse's aide benignly ignored by all, suppressing her unconscious rage beneath the comforting rituals of hospital sanitation, the solace of religion, and dreams of love. But her luck remains dismal: the drug-addicted young intern whom Kathleen adores impregnates and then abandons her. Kathleen performs an abortion on herself, and a short time later a number of her hospital patients unexpectedly die. Still unsuspected, Kathleen opts to leave while she can for a new job at a suburban convalescent home, where in the decades to come she'll continue to pursue her strange career. A grim tale--little more than a character sketch--and not among Oates's more memorable accomplishments.
Pub Date: April 30th, 1991
ISBN: 0-8112-1171-1
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: New Directions
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1991




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