Skip to main content

Review: Little Bird of Heaven, by Joyce Carol Oates

I first discovered Joyce Carol Oates about ten years ago, when I read one of her short stories (“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” It’s a MUST read, by the way). I fell in love with her stories and novels because of the subject matter; Oates’s novels usually deal with obsession usually of the sexual kind (them is a perfect example of this). Oates’s novels are always dark and gritty, never easy reading but somehow satisfying nonetheless. Little Bird of Heaven is Oates at her best.

The setting is a working-class town in upstate New York (typical Oates) in the 1980s. The story isn’t told linearly, but unfolds gradually over time. Some of the information we’re given is repeated, but each time the story is told from a different point of view. Krista Diehl is the daughter of Eddy Diehl, suspected of but never charged with the murder of a local singer named Zoe Kruller, with whom he was romantically involved. On the other side of the coin is Aaron Kruller, the woman’s son. Both he and Krista become obsessed with the murder of his mother—and, by extension, with each other, in a weird way. The first half of the book is told from Krista’s perspective, the second from Aaron’s.

Part of the beauty of Oates’s novels is a common theme that runs throughout: obsession. Krista and Aaron are of course obsessed with Zoe Kruller’s murder; Eddy Diehl is obsessed with clearing his name and having his life returned to normal. Another thing I loved about this book is the not-knowing; the reader never really knows until the end for sure who killed Zoe Kruller, and that’s part of what kept me turning the pages. And yet Eddy Diehl certainly does keep acting guilty, doesn’t he? I certainly think he does feel guilt, in a way, but maybe he didn’t really do it?

Another thing I love about Oates’s novels is her prose. I’m pretty sure that, if you plugged one of her sentences into Microsoft Word, it would flag that sentence as a run on; but Joce Carol Oates’s writing is pure poetry. She breaks the rules of writing in a way that only she can. Sure, she does use a fair bit of profanity, which can be a bit disturbing. It’s also exhausting at times to read, but well worth the effort of doing so. The only thing I didn’t really get was Aaron Kruller’s voice, especially as a child; I doubt that a boy of eleven, especially one with a bad reputation, would call his parents “Mommy” and “Daddy.” Also, Oates goes a little bit overboard on the Elvis comparisons (it seems that a lot of people in Sparta, New York look like him!) But other than that, I highly recommend this book.


Serena said…
Maybe I should have my husband read this one if there are so many Elvis look-a-likes! LOL I have this on the shelf to read.

Nice review.
Teddy Rose said…
I have JCO on my TBR and now added this. I just found the short story and printed it out to read. I'm looking foward to it. Thanks!

Popular posts from this blog

2015 Reading

1. The Vanishing Witch, by Karen Maitland
2. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
3. Texts From Jane Eyre, by Mallory Ortberg
4. Brighton Rock, by Graham Green
5. Brat Farrar, by Josephine Tey
6. Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
7. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
8. A Movable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
9. A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf
10. Other Voices, Other Rooms, by Truman Capote
11. Maggie-Now, by Betty Smith

1. Middlemarch, by George Eliot
2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
3. Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate, by Cynthia Lee
4. Music For Chameleons, by Truman Capote
5. Peyton Place, by Grace Metalious
6. Unrequited, by Lisa Phillips
7. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
8. A Lost Lady, by Willa Cather

1. Persuasion, by Jane Austen
2. Love With a Chance of Drowning, by Torre DeRoche
3. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
4. Miss Buncle's Book, by DE Stevenson
5. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garc…

2016 Reading

1. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
2. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
3. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
4. Liar: A Memoir, by Rob Roberge

1. The Forsyte Saga, by John Galsworthy
2. Girl in the Woods, by Aspen Matis
3. She Left Me the Gun, by Emma Brockes
4. Because of the Lockwoods, by Dorothy Whipple
5. The Chronology of Water, by Lidia Yuknavitch
6. To Show and to Tell, by Philip Lopate

1. Fierce Attachments, by Vivian Gornick
2. Too Brief a Treat, by Truman Capote
3. On the Move: a Life, by Oliver Sacks
4. The Go-Between, by LP Hartley
5. The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr
6. Giving Up the Ghost, by Hilary Mantel
7. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
8. The Great American Bus Ride, by Irma Kurtz
9. An Unquiet Mind, by Kay Radfield Jamison
10. A Widow's Story, by Joyce Carol Oates
11. So Sad Today, by Melissa Broder
12. The Liar's Club, by Mary Karr
13. An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard
14. So Sad Today, by Melissa Broder

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972Originally published: 1944My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press)How I acquired my copy:, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…