Happy Birthday, Joyce Carol Oates! NJ's Pride...Sort of...

I'm sure sales of Joyce Carol Oates books are swift enough to make her at least the number three export from the state, behind cranberries and raging sexual infections from the Jersey Shore (obviously, fake bubbies and famewhores are tied at number 4).

Ok. Technically she's from New York. But she lives and teaches at Princeton, and has done so since 1978, so I'm claiming her for NJ. Please let us have this. Otherwise, our greatest accomplishment is being the only state in the north to have slaves through the Civil War. That, or Constantine Maroulis. 

I remember when I became fascinated with Oates. There was a pretty good Simpsons episode with a prison fantasy featuring Lisa, in which she asks the library cart operator if they had any Joyce Carol Oates; sadly, the book cart only features Danielle Steel, a true nightmare (this is, of course, the only episode of Season 19 that Hulu has no clips of). Two months later, I began an intense summer of horror research in the local library, sifting through dozens of lists of "Best Horror Novels" as I set out on a quest to rekindle my love of fiction writing.

One of the first (and only) consistent entries on the lists that my pathetic local library had was Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates. I chuckled to myself when I realized how I knew the name (that was a funny prison sequence for Lisa). This book fucked me up. Like, rocking back and forth, crying, praying to Jesus, temporarily bonkers fucked me up. It's magnificent. It is, perhaps, the greatest American novel about the mind of a mentally retarded serial killer attempting to recruit an army of gay sex slaves from jocks at local high schools; it is also, perhaps, the only book on that subject. So, let's go with one of the most chilling portraits of a psychopath in the American oeuvre.

And it is an American story. All poor Quentin P_ wants is to get ahead in life. Gosh darn it, he uses genuine American ingenuity to trap these poor children, knock'em unconscious, and go for the back alley lobotomy. He keeps trying again and again, learning from his failings not unlike a young Ben Franklin.

Or maybe I'm reading too much into it.

Oates is one of the few respected American writers who continually delves into horror and gothic literature. If you have the time to swing by the library, pick up any of her Gothic novellas for a quick read tonight (I particularly love First Love, though Beasts or Rape: A Love Story will do in a pinch). She is also probably the most prolific author this side of Stephen King, and she might have edged out Margaret Atwood's productivity at this point.

Some interesting tidbits:

  • She wrote a book on boxing. You know, the sport where two guys get in a ring and wail on each other with padded gloves until one can't get up or they meet an agreed upon number or rounds of wailing on each other, in which case a series of judges pick the winner? Yeah, that.
  • She wrote novels as two other people without anyone catching on for a while. Rosamund Smith was so 90's, since she also revealed herself to be 00's author Lauren Kelly, as well. Take that, Richard Bachman.
  • She can write about horrific serial killers, the sexual abuse (allegedly) of Marilyn Monroe, gravediggers, and still find a way to write children and young adult novels (acclaimed books, at that)
  • She got me into a lot of trouble during an Emily Dickinson presentation because the professor really, really, really hated the story about Emily Dickinson coming back as a robot.
  • She wrote a story about Emily Dickinson coming back as a robot.
  • No, really. She did. It's in Wild Nights!

In conclusion, since it is her birthday, prepare to not sleep tonight: *BD* 11 1 86