WHAT I LIVED FOR by Joyce Carol Oates
Kirkus Star


Email this review


A pulsating portrait of the American fin-de-siecle, as immediate and unsettling as your morning newspaper, but more compulsively readable. Oates's (Black Water, 1992, etc.) darkly comic work -- set against a background of industrial decline, urban decay, racial strife, and political corruption -- is permeated by death, from its opening page, when Timothy Corcoran is gunned down in front of his house on Christmas Eve 1959, to the apparent suicide 32 years later of Marilee Plummet, a young black woman who has charged a radical black Union City, NY, councilman with rape. Oates sucks us into the flood-of-consciousness, the whirling vortex that is the mind of Tim's son, Jerome Andrew "Corky" Corcoran, on Memorial Day weekend 1992. Now 43, what does he think about, what does he live for? Sex, food, sex, drink, sex -- anything to obliterate the memory of his father's bloody corpse, his mother's subsequent madness, his loneliness, his sense of impending doom. "Oh, Christ, he's happy, never so happy as at such a time, lips, tongue, teeth, fingers, his cock erect and bobbing...pure sensation and no memory of Jerome Corcoran now." Corky has hauled himself up from Union City's low-rent Irish Hill to become a successful real estate developer and city councilman. He is filled at once with vanity and self-loathing, proud of his $35,000 Caddy, his upper-crust ex-wife and equally upper-crust mistress. Yet, paranoid, he fears each smile from one of his friends is really a smirk of derision. Corky is not the best of men: He's just slapped his mistress around. Neither is he the worst of men: "In weakened states he tends to speak from the heart." His investments are turning sour; his ex-father-in-law and mentor has just refused him financial help; his rebellious stepdaughter has stolen the Luger automatic from his bedside drawer. This weekend will bring Corky the truth -- about the corruption behind his father's death and the corruption of his own political friends. A moment of dignity will be within his grasp. Will he reach for it before it's too late? This question drives Oates's dazzling novel, brilliant both stylistically and in its depiction of a man running desperately for his life.
Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-525-93836-2
Page count: 624pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1994


FictionHAZARDS OF TIME TRAVEL by Joyce Carol Oates
by Joyce Carol Oates
by Joyce Carol Oates
FictionBEAUTIFUL DAYS by Joyce Carol Oates
by Joyce Carol Oates