Joyce Carol Oates – Lovely, Dark, Deep

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I wasn’t a reader of short stories, but then I came across a story by Joyce Carol Oates in a podcast. The story is also part of this collection, which made me buy this book. After I had heard the story on the podcast I couldn’t stop thinking about it, I came back to it in my mind, even after several days had passed. I then ordered the book and felt the same way about most of the stories in this collection. I haven’t read anything quite like it this year. Only Eileen Chang touched me as much. My problem with short stories had always been that I felt I couldn’t connect with the characters in short pieces, in this collection however this wasn’t a problem at all. The characters seemed so real, I felt so close to them when I was reading the stories. I think because we only get a glimpse of their lives I kept coming back to them in my mind, wondering what would happen to them. Oates has a very specific way of writing, it is almost hypnotic in the way she draws you into these haunting situations. I also really liked the way she portrayed the relationship between women and men, it didn’t seem easy or clear cut and certainly not all female characters were likable (and why should they?) I felt that Oates was aware of the particular struggles that women have in comparison to men. So even if some women in the book were loosing a power struggle with a man, there was still a feminist statement somewhere in there. I really enjoyed this book and would love to read more by her. After every story I felt that it meant so much to me and I was glad I had read it.

Doris Lessing – To Room Nineteen

To Room Nineteen is a very dark tale of a woman breaking down under the pressure of her sensible marriage. To an outsider it would seem that she has everything one could hope for, a loving husband, a beautiful house and four happy and healthy children. But she finds herself spiralling further and further out of control as she searches for her personal identity and a meaningful life beyond what society has thought out for her, beyond the prison her life and marriage has become. And as she is distancing herself from the world that she had so willingly and sensibly constructed we enter with her a shabby hotel room, where she is finally herself again. But at the same time she enters a dark place in her mind, maybe she is descending into madness or maybe she is finally waking up, but realising that what she is hoping to find might be too far out of reach. Maybe approaching life sensibly was the biggest mistake of all. As Susan said:

“A high price has to be paid for the happy marriage.”