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.

Comments

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

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

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

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

Review: Midnight in Peking, by Paul French

Pages: 259 Original date of publication: 2013 My copy: 2013 (Penguin) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Phoenix bookstore, May 2013
In January 1937, the body of a young British girl, Pamela Werner, was found near Peking’s Fox Tower. Although two detectives, one British and the other Chinese, spent months on the case, the case was never solved completely, and the case was forgotten in the wake of the invasion of the Japanese. Frustrated, Pamela’s father, a former diplomat, tried to solve the crime. His investigation took him into the underbelly of Peking society and uncovered a secret that was worse than anything he could have imagined.
At first, I thought that this would be a pretty straightforward retelling of a true crime, but what Paul French (who spent seven years researching the story) reveals in this book is much more than that. Foreign society in Peking in the 1930s was stratified, with the British colonials at the top and the White Russian refugees at the bottom, but…