Thursday, January 24, 2008

A ceaseless torrent of unhappy things

Not least, there's also a common complaint about the character of Oates's fiction—that it is grim, full of violence, relentlessly dark in tone, and largely populated by psychopaths (usually male) and their prey (usually female). When people describe her novels they generally reach for words like Dreiserian, gothic, expressionist, and grotesque. Though Oates can be funny—most obviously in some of her scenes of academic life, but also in books like A Bloodsmoor Romance (1982)—she admits that her imagination "seems to turn instinctively toward the central, centralizing act of violence." In fact, she points out that such violence generally "seems to symbolize something beyond itself. Like a lightning flash illuminating part of a culture or an era." She questions whether her writing is unduly violent: to her mind, she's simply presenting the moral and social conditions of America.

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