|Hardcover (New edition)||2000-05-02||£12.99||432|
|Mass Market Paperback (1st Fawcett Crest Ed)||1991-01-01||£8.99||478|
|Mass Market Paperback||1981-08-01|
|Leather Bound (Limited ed)||1979||601|
|Paperback (New edition)||1972-08||£0.50||480|
|Hardcover (First ediiton)||1971-03-18||£4.95||512|
|Mass Market Paperback||1970-01-01||478|
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Joyce Carol Oates’s Wonderland Quartet comprises four remarkable novels that explore social class in America and the inner lives of young Americans. As powerful and relevant today as it on its initial publication, them chronicles the tumultuous lives of a family living on the edge of ruin in the Detroit slums, from the 1930s to the 1967 race riots. Praised by The Nation for her “potent, life-gripping imagination,” Oates traces the aspirations and struggles of Loretta Wendall, a dreamy young mother who is filled with regret by the age of sixteen, and the subsequent destinies of her children, Maureen and Jules, who must fight to survive in a world of violence and danger.
Winner of the National Book Award, them is an enthralling novel about love, class, race, and the inhumanity of urban life. It is, raves The New York Times, “a superbly accomplished vision.”
Them is the third novel in the Wonderland Quartet. The books that complete this acclaimed series, A Garden of Earthly Delights, Expensive People, and Wonderland, are also available from the Modern Library.
3D preview available at the top of this page...
PRAISE FOR JOYCE CAROL OATES AND them 'If the phrase 'woman of letters? existed, [Oates] would be, foremost in this country, entitled to it.' 'J''? U''''', The New Yorker '[Oates is] a superb storyteller. For sheer readability, them is unsurpassed.' 'The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 'Three successful novels'Expensive People, A Garden of Earthly Delights, them'have wrought mayhem, rape, madness, murdered children, murdering children, workaday murder, what have you. . . . [Them] collected all these bits and pieces of the Gothic wardrobe . . . and carried away the National Book Award in 1970. She deserved it.' 'The New York Times 'To read Oates is to cross an emotional minefield, to be stunned to the soul by multiple explosions, but to emerge to safety again with the skull ringing with shocked revelation and clarity. . . . Her superlative middle-American scope and focus . . . and her unerring dedication to curing the absence of empathy that pervades so much of our contemporary writing all combine to make her one of the top writers truly puzzling out the complexity of the American experience today.' 'The Washington Post Book World 'Oates is a superb writer with a perfect eye and ear. She has the uncanny ability to give us a cinemascopic vision of her America.' 'National Review 'Her sweeping view of America as a delusive wonderland of colliding forces, where love as often as hate lead to violence, has established Miss Oates as a major'and controversial'figure in American writing. . . . Like the most important modern writers? Joyce, Proust, Mann'she has an absolute identification with her material: the spirit of a society at a crucial point in its history.' 'Newsweek
ALSO BY JOYCE CAROL OATES NOVELS With Shuddering Fall (1964) A Garden of Earthly Delights (1967) Expensive People (1968) Wonderland (1971) Do with Me What You Will (1973) The Assassins (1975) Childwold (1976) Son of the Morning (1978) Cybele (1979) Unholy Loves (1979) Bellefleur (1980) Angel of Light (1981) A Bloodsmoor Romance (1982) Mysteries of Winterthurn (1984) Solstice (1985) Marya: A Life (1986) You Must Remember This (1987) American Appetites (1989) Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart (1990) Black Water (1992) Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang (1993) What I Lived For (1994) We Were the Mulvaneys (1996) Man Crazy (1997) My Heart Laid Bare (1998) Broke Heart Blues (1999) Blonde (2000) Middle Age: A Romance (2001) I'll Take You There (2002) The Tattooed Girl (2003) The Falls (2004) Missing Mom (2005) Black Girl, White Girl (2006) ? ROSAMOND SMITH ? NOVELS Lives of the Twins (1987) Soul/Mate (1989) Nemesis (1990) Snake Eyes (1992) You Can't Catch Me (1995) Double Delight (1997) Starr Bright Will Be with You Soon (1999) The Barrens (2001) SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS By the North Gate (1963) Upon the Sweeping Flood (1966) The Wheel of Love (1970) Marriages and Infidelities (1972) The Goddess and Other Women (1974) Hungry Ghosts (1974) Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? (1974) The Poisoned Kiss (1975) The Seduction (1975) Crossing the Border (1976) Night-Side (1977) All the Good People I've Left Behind (1978) The Lady of Abyssalia (1980) A Sentimental Education (1980) Last Days (1984) Wild Nights (1985) Raven's Wing (1986) The Assignation (1988) Heat (1991) Where Is Here? (1992) Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque (1994) Zombie (1995) 'Will You Always Love Me'? (1996) The Collector of Hearts: New Tales of the Grotesque (1998) Faithless (2001) I Am No One You Know (2005) High Lonesome: Stories, 1996'2006 (2006) The Female of the Species (2006) NOVELLAS The Triumph of the Spider Monkey (1976) I Lock My Door upon Myself (1990) The Rise of Life on Earth (1991) First Love: A Gothic Tale (1996) Beasts (2002) Rape: A Love Story (2003)
Joyce Carol Oates them T H E M O D E R N L I B R A R Y N E W Y O R K x Introduction by Elaine Showalter Afterword by Joyce Carol Oates
2006 Modern Library Paperback Edition Copyright ? 1969, 1998, 2000 by Joyce Carol Oates Biographical note copyright ? 2000 by Random House, Inc. Introduction copyright ? 2006 by Elaine Showalter All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Modern Library, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. MODERN LIBRARY and the TORCHBEARER Design are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc. This work was originally published in 1969 by Vanguard Press. A hardcover edition was published in 2000 by Modern Library, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. This edition published by arrangement with Ontario Review, Inc.. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA Oates, Joyce Carol them / Joyce Carol Oates. p. cm. ISBN 0-345-48440-1 1. Working class families'Michigan'Detroit'Fiction. 2. Young women'Michigan'Detroit'Fiction. 3. Family'Michigan? Detroit'Fiction. 4. Poor'Michigan'Detroit'Fiction. 5. Detroit (Mich.)'Fiction. I. Title. PS3565.A8 T48 2000 813'.54'dc21 99-054471 Printed in the United States of America www.modernlibrary.com 2 4 6 8 9 7 5 3 1
Joyce Carol Oates Joyce Carol Oates, one of America's most versatile and prolific contemporary writers, was born in the small town of Lockport, New York, on June 16, 1938. She grew up on a farm in nearby Erie County and began writing stories while still in elementary school. As a teenager she devoured works by Faulkner, Dostoyevsky, Thoreau, Hemingway, and the Bront's, and soon moved on to D. H. Lawrence, Flannery O'Connor, Thomas Mann, and Franz Kafka. Oates graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Syracuse University in 1960 and was awarded an M.A. from the University of Wisconsin in 1961. During the 1960s and 1970s she taught English at the University of Detroit and the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada. In 1974 she cofounded the Ontario Review with her husband, Raymond Smith. Oates was named a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1978, the same year she became writer-in-residence at Princeton University, where she is currently the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor in the Humanities. Oates's first novel, With Shuddering Fall (1964), the story of a destructive romance between a teenage girl and a thirty-yearold race car driver, foreshadowed her preoccupation with violence and darkness. Her next novel, A Garden of Earthly Delights
(1967), is the opening volume in a quartet about different socioeconomic groups in America that incorporates Expensive People (1968), them (1969), for which she won the National Book Award, and Wonderland (1971). Throughout the 1970s Oates pursued her exploration of American people and institutions in a series of novels that fuse social analysis with vivid psychological portrayals. Wonderland exposes the shortcomings of the medical world Do with Me What You Will (1973) centers on the legal profession The Assassins (1975) attacks political corruption Son of the Morning (1978) tracks the rise and fall of a religious zealot and Unholy Loves (1979) looks at pettiness and hypocrisy within the academic community. 'Like the most important modern writers? Joyce, Proust, Mann'Oates has an absolute identification with her material: the spirit of a society at a crucial point in its history,' noted Newsweek. Novels such as Childwold (1976) and Cybele (1979) showcase what Alfred Kazin called 'her sweetly brutal sense of what American experience is really like.' 'Joyce Carol Oates is a fearless writer . . . [with] impossibly lush and dead-on imaginative powers,' noted the Los Angeles Times Book Review. During this same period she secured her reputation as a virtuoso of the short story with twelve acclaimed collections: By the North Gate (1963), Upon the Sweeping Flood and Other Stories (1966), The Wheel of Love and Other Stories (1970), Marriages and Infidelities (1972), The Goddess and Other Women (1974), Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? (1974), The Hungry Ghosts (1974), The Poisoned Kiss and Other Stories from the Portuguese (1975), The Seduction and Other Stories (1975), Crossing the Border (1976), Night-Side (1977), and All the Good People I've Left Behind (1978). 'In the landscape of the contemporary American short story Miss Oates stands out as a master, occupying a preeminent category of her own,' said the Saturday Review. '[Oates] intuitively seems to know that the short story is for a different type of material from the novel: a brief and dazzling plunge into another state of consciousness,' remarked Erica Jong. 'Miss Oates [is] our poet laureate of schizophrenia, of blasted childhoods, of random acts of violence.' Her stories have been widely viii ? Joyce Carol Oates
anthologized, and she is a three-time winner of the O. Henry Continuing Achievement Award as well as the recipient of the PEN/Malamud Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Short Story. 'Joyce Carol Oates is that rarity in American fiction, a writer who seems to grow with each new book,' said Time. She set out in new directions in the 1980s with an acclaimed series of bestselling novels that exploit the conventions of Gothic literature: Bellefleur (1980), A Bloodsmoor Romance (1982), and Mysteries of Winterthurn (1984). In addition she wrote Angel of Light (1981), Solstice (1985), Marya (1986), You Must Remember This (1987), and American Appetites (1989): a succession of works that make it clear why Commonweal deemed her 'the most relentless chronicler of America and its nightmares since Poe.' 'Oates's best novels are strongly reminiscent of Faulkner's, especially in their uncompromised vision of the violence her characters visit upon one another and themselves,' said The Washington Post Book World. 'Even her humor'and she can be hilariously funny'is mordantly ironical.' Using the pseudonym Rosamond Smith she began writing a series of psychological suspense novels: Lives of the Twins (1988), Soul/Mate (1989), Nemesis (1990), Snake Eyes (1992), You Can't Catch Me (1995), Double Delight (1997), and Starr Bright Will Be with You Soon (1999). Her compilations of short stories continued with The Lamb of Abyssalia (1980), A Sentimental Education (1981), Last Days (1984), Wild Nights (1985), Raven's Wing (1986), and The Assignation (1988). In addition she enjoyed great success with On Boxing (1987), an eloquent meditation on prizefighting. 'Oates's unblinking curiosity about human nature is one of the great artistic forces of our time,' observed The Nation as her output proliferated throughout the 1990s. Her novels further examined the violence underlying many realities of American culture: racism (Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart, 1990), alienation (I Lock My Door Upon Myself, 1990), poverty (The Rise of Life on Earth, 1991), the interplay of politics and sex (Black Water, 1992), feminism (Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang, 1993), success Joyce Carol Oates ? ix
(What I Lived For, 1994), serial killers (Zombie, 1995), family disintegration (We Were the Mulvaneys, 1996), outlaw cults (Man Crazy, 1997), criminality and greed (My Heart Laid Bare, 1998), and fame and celebrity (Broke Heart Blues, 1999, and Blonde, 2000). 'A future archaeologist equipped only with her oeuvre could easily piece together the whole of postwar America,' said Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 'No one knows the darkness of our age, of our own natures, the prison of our narcissism, better than Joyce Carol Oates,' wrote The Washington Post Book World. Her volumes of short stories dating from this period include Heat (1991), Where Is Here? (1992), Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque (1994), Will You Always Love Me? (1996), and The Collector of Hearts: New Tales of the Grotesque (1998). 'Oates has imbued the American short story with an edgy vitality and raw social surfaces,' stated the Chicago Tribune, and Alice Adams deemed her short fiction 'immensely exhilarating, deeply exciting.' In 1994 she received the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award in Horror Fiction. 'Joyce Carol Oates belongs to that small group of writers who keep alive the central ambitions and energies of literature,' said Newsweek. Though best known for short stories and novels, she has also won acclaim for her poetry, essays, and plays. 'The best of Miss Oates's poems create a feeling of controlled delirium, verging on nightmare, which is a lyrical counterpart of the rich violence of her novels,' wrote The New York Times Book Review. Her volumes of poetry include Women in Love and Other Poems (1968), Anonymous Sins and Other Poems (1969), Love and Its Derangements (1970), Angel Fire (1973), Dreaming America (1973), The Fabulous Beasts (1975), Season of Peril (1977), The Stepfather (1978), Women Whose Lives Are Food, Men Whose Lives Are Money (1978), Celestial Timepiece (1981), Invisible Woman (1982), The Luxury of Sin (1983), and The Time Traveler (1989). As George Garrett noted: 'The bright center of all Joyce Carol Oates's art and craft has always been her poetry.' Her several collections of essays'The Edge of Impossibility: Tragic Forms in Literature (1972), New Heaven, New Earth: The Visionary Experience in Literature (1974), Contraries: Essays (1981), The Profane Art: Essays and Reviews (1983), (Woman) x ? Joyce Carol Oates
Writer: Occasions and Opportunities (1988), and Where I've Been, and Where I'm Going: Essays, Reviews, and Prose (1999)'display a range of knowledge and interests that explain why she numbers among America's most respected literary and social critics. Oates made a name for herself as a dramatist early in her career with plays such as The Sweet Enemy (1965), Sunday Dinner (1970), Ontological Proof of My Existence (1972), and Miracle Play (1974). During the 1990s she resumed writing plays and turned out In Darkest America (1991), I Stand Before You Naked (1991), Gulf War (1992), The Secret Mirror (1992), The Perfectionist (1993), and The Truth-Teller (1993), which have been performed Off-Broadway and at regional theaters across the country. 'Joyce Carol Oates is one of our most audaciously talented writers,' judged Erica Jong. 'Her gift is so large, her fluency in different genres'poems, short stories, novels, essays'so great, that at times she seems to challenge the ability of readers to keep up with her. In an age of specialization she is that rarest of generalists, a woman of letters. She gives her gifts with such abundance and generosity that we may pick and choose, preferring this Oates to that, quibbling about which of her many talents we like best.' John Updike concurred: 'Joyce Carol Oates was perhaps born a hundred years too late. She needs a lustier audience, a race of Victorian word-eaters, to be worthy of her astounding productivity, her tireless gift of self-enthrallment. Not since Faulkner has an American writer seemed so mesmerized by a field of imaginary material, and so headstrong in the cultivation of that field.' The New York Times Book Review concluded: 'What keeps us coming back to Oates Country is her uncanny gift of making the page a window, with something happening on the other side that we'd swear was life itself.' Joyce Carol Oates's most recent novels include Middle Age: A Romance (2001), I'll Take You There (2002), The Tattooed Girl (2003), The Falls (2004), Missing Mom (2005), and Black Girl, White Girl (2006). Joyce Carol Oates ? xi
Contents BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE vii INTRODUCTION: The Wonderland Quartet by Elaine Showalter xv AUTHOR'S NOTE xxxiii THEM I. CHILDREN OF SILENCE 1 II. TO WHOSE COUNTRY HAVE I COME? 227 III. COME, MY SOUL, THAT HATH LONG LANGUISHED . . . 427 AFTERWORD by Joyce Carol Oates 539
Introduction The Wonderland Quartet Elaine Showalter As a young writer, Joyce Carol Oates published four remarkable novels, A Garden of Earthly Delights (1967) Expensive People (1968), them (1969), and Wonderland (1971). They were all nominated for the National Book Award, and Oates won the award for them in 1970. The novels have been considered as a loosely connected saga of American class struggle in the twentieth century. Oates, in the Afterword to Expensive People, said that they 'were conceived . . . as critiques of America'American culture, American values, American dreams'as well as narratives in which romantic ambitions are confronted by what must be called 'reality.' ? In her Afterword to them, Oates described Wonderland as the book that 'thematically ends the informal series, moving . . . into the yet-uncharted, apocalyptic America of the late Vietnam War period when the idealism of antiwar sentiment had turned to cynicism and the counterculture fantasy . . . had self-destructed.' It makes sense to call these novels the Wonderland Quartet, not only to emphasize their historical connection, but also to suggest that they share elements of the surreal and hallucinatory vision that Oates had highly valued in her favorite childhood book, Alice in Wonderland. Reprinting the series in modern paperback editions nearly forty years after their composition allows
us a new perspective on their collective meaning and illuminates their place in Oates's overall career. In the mid-1960s, Oates saw herself as a social realist devoted to chronicling the lives of her parents? generation in the Depression, and writing about the marginal and powerless inhabitants of towns like Lockport, New York, where she grew up, and cities like Detroit, where she lived from 1962 to 1967. 'Moving to Detroit . . . changed my life completely,' she has said. 'Living in Detroit, enduring the extraordinary racial tensions of that city . . . made me want to write directly about the serious social concerns of out time.'* But rereading the Wonderland Quartet from the distance of a new century, we can see that aesthetic, private, domestic, apolitical, and psychological issues mix with or even dominate Oates's political and public concerns. Alongside class and racial tensions, Oates also dramatizes more coded and perhaps more impassioned preoccupations with the destiny of women, the creative freedom of the woman writer, and the function of art itself. Paradoxically, all four novels use male narrators, the male point of view, or masculine themes'territory many women writers, from Jane Austen on, had deliberately avoided. Moreover, Oates clearly identifies with the longing, frustration, and energy of these male figures we could even call the series 'portraits of the woman artist as a young man.' To portray female experience and sexuality, Oates revived the Female Gothic. In the classic eighteenth-century Gothic novel, a young heroine encountered a powerful male, who represented the oppressive but sexually thrilling patriarchal system that imprisoned her in a haunted castle or convent. But the modern Female Gothic is a parable of women writers? fantasies, desires, and nightmares about creativity vs. procreativity'the anxieties of giving birth to stories instead of babies, in a society that viewed female artistic ambition and sexuality as unnatural xvi ? Introduction *Frank McLaughlin, 'A Conversation with Joyce Carol Oates,' Writing!, September 1985, pp. 21'23.
and deviant. The obsession with monsters and freaks, in the work of Southern Gothic writers like Flannery O'Connor and Carson McCullers, was a metaphor for this anxiety, and the mother's body, rather than the haunted castle, is the place of imprisonment, since it represents the fate of women who give in to their sexual desires. In the classic American fiction Oates admired'Faulkner, Hemingway, Poe'men too are in flight from the engulfing maternal body, which symbolizes the biological opposite of selfdetermination, intellect, and adventure. But men have agency, control, the means of escape while women seem powerless and paralyzed by their biology, their poverty, and their passivity. Oates's heroines in the 1960s, like Gothic heroines in the eighteenth century, are dependent on men to rescue, even abduct, them and carry them away. The America Oates grew up in resembled these fictional worlds. Born June 16, 1938, in a working-class Catholic family, Oates was raised on a small farm in rural Millersport, New York. Lockport (pop. 25,000), where she was bussed to school in the 1950s, was an industrial town, bisected by the Erie Barge Canal and its many metal bridges over seething dark water, recurring images in her fiction of sexual temptation and danger. As a child, she read American classics, but neither in her reading nor in her life would she have encountered strong professional women, or daring women writers. As Arnold Friend tells the teenage Connie in Oates's 1966 short story 'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been'? all a girl can do is 'be sweet and pretty and give in.' Yet by the time she graduated from high school, Oates had determined to be a writer, and she found her own path almost unaided. As a brilliant undergraduate at Syracuse University, and as a graduate student in English at the University of Wisconsin, she met hardly any female professors. At Wisconsin, she met another graduate student, Raymond Smith they married in 1961, and she followed him to Beaumont, Texas, where he had a teaching position. After a year, the couple moved to Detroit, Introduction ? xvii
where Ray had a job at Wayne State. Oates was also teaching at the Jesuit-run University of Detroit, where she and a nun were the only female faculty in the English department. Oates had begun to publish fiction as an undergraduate, but her first real successes came in 1963, when she published her first collection of short stories, and in 1964, when Vanguard Press brought out her novel With Shuddering Fall. Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique also appeared in 1963, harbingers of a decade of feminist questioning and activism. But for Oates, the women's liberation movement was not yet important for her, career and marriage signified freedom and mobility, and the 1960s were the years of her 'romance with Detroit . . . romance with novel writing itself ? (Afterword, Expensive People). A Garden of Earthly Delights (1967) A Garden of Earthly Delights, ironically named for the Hieronymous Bosch triptych, has three parts, each named for a man to whom the central figure, Clara Walpole, is related as daughter, lover, and mother. Ostensibly the novel is Clara's story, but as a poor and uneducated girl, Clara has few choices, and although Oates has given the child Clara versions of some of her experience, particularly her elementary schooling, the male characters have much more scope for action and drama. In part I, the most naturalistic part of the novel, Carleton Walpole is a migrant fruit picker, with vague aspirations to a more meaningful and dignified life, but trapped by an adolescent marriage and many children. His heroes are boxers, like Jack Dempsey, who prove their manhood by stoic endurance: 'The more punches a man takes, the closer he is to the end.' Angry and discouraged, Carleton is disgusted by his pregnant wife, Pearl, a 'sallow-faced sullen woman with hair she never washed, and her underarm stale and sour, body soft as a rotted watermelon.' In his mind, women have no real will, but can only fight against nature not to let go of their xviii ? Introduction
youth and beauty 'when a woman does, that's the end. Like letting a garden go to weeds.' Although his delicate, blond daughter Clara is pretty and intelligent, she can envision no routes out of her environment but stealing and sex the pregnant female bodies that repel Carleton are her unescapable destiny. As a little girl, she dreams of becoming a teacher, but the teacher calls her 'white trash.' As a young teenager, she tells Lowry, a mysterious blond man with a sharp profile like the jack of spades, 'I don't know what I want, but I want it!' In her powerlessness, Clara gambles on Lowry because he provides an immediate means of escape, even though she has no plan or destination. Part II is named for Lowry, although he remains a shadowy and enigmatic character. A drifter and a loner, Lowry likes 'just to be in motion? he likes his car, and the act of driving. But he 'don't stay in one place long.' He takes Clara along as his passenger, helps her find a room and a job in his hometown of Tintern, New York (a version of Lockport), and eventually takes her virginity, in a scene where Clara, although willing, 'felt as if he had gone after her with a knife.' Although Clara knows by this point that she doesn't want to get married ('You just end up having babies'), she falls back into the ancient scenario she becomes pregnant, Lowry leaves, and she is forced to deploy her resources of female sexuality, beauty, and cunning in order to survive. In her most self-determining act, Clara seduces a prosperous married businessman, Curt Revere, and persuades him that he has fathered her child. 'Today she changed the way her life was going and it was no accident.' In another sign of Clara's partial taking of control, Revere teaches her to drive and buys her a car. Clara finally has wheels but nowhere to go, and she imagines that her infant son, Swan, will grow up to live out her fantasies: 'He's going by train and by airplane/All around the world,' she croons to the sleeping baby. But Swan too is doomed. In part III we meet Swan as a Introduction ? xix
teenager, bookish and intense, an artist manqu', but ultimately a failure who seeks manhood and control in a gun, and destroys himself. Clara's fate is to watch endlessly as her fantasies play in their most elemental form on television: 'She seemed to like best programs that showed men fighting, swinging from ropes, shooting guns and driving fast cars, killing the enemy again and again until the dying gasps of evil men were only a certain familiar rhythm away from the opening blasts of the commercials which changed only gradually over the years.' While this passage from the original text of the novel is overtly satirical about the mindless violence and repetition of television, it is also a terse and tragic image of Clara's helpless identification with male combat, vengeance, and death. In 2002, Oates expanded this passage, along with rewriting more than three-quarters of the rest of the book. Among the changes, she restored some of the language that had been thought too obscene in 1967 and added details about Clara trying to copy the styles of movie stars, so that she more emphatically takes on the characteristic of the iconic Blonde, the vehicle and victim of American cultural fantasies, about whom Oates would write throughout her career with great compassion. Expensive People (1968) Published at the height of the counterculture and antiwar movement, Expensive People, Oates has recalled in her Afterword to the book, was received by critics 'as an expression of the radical discontent . . . of a generation of young and idealistic Americans confronted by an America of their elders . . . steeped in political hypocrisy.' Set in 'Fernwood,' an imaginary Detroit suburb, the novel is Oates's most playful and experimental black comedy of the '60s, and is linked to the other Wonderland novels more by its fascination with place, identity, and power than by its political concerns. The people of the story are 'expensive,' rather than rich their luxury comes at the cost of their children, servants, and rejected past. xx ? Introduction
Expensive People is narrated by Richard Everett, an obese, halfcrazed adolescent living at '4500 Labyrinth Drive,' who is obsessed with his mother, the glamorous novelist Natashya Romanov, whom he calls 'Nada''nothing. Although she claims to be an aristocratic Russian 'migr', Nada is actually a self-reinvented figure from a working-class family in upstate New York. Oates foregrounds some of the parallels between Nada and herself Nada is considering plots and titles for the very first-person novel we are reading and her embedded short story, 'The Molesters,' is one that Oates published the same year in the Quarterly Review of Literature. Oates's biographer, Greg Johnson, suggests that Expensive People is partly her dark autobiographical 'dialog with herself about the prospect of motherhood.'* As Oates herself remarked, 'not even Nabokov could have conceived of the bizarre idea of writing a novel from the point of view of one's own (unborn, unconceived) child, thereby presenting some valid, if comic, reasons, for it remaining unborn and unconceived.' ? Richard is an angry and neglected son who comes to feel that he is only a 'minor character? in his mother's life. Oates's concern, however, is as much with the conflict of creativity and procreativity for the woman writer as with actual motherhood, and her dialogue is as much with Nabokov and the aesthetic school of fiction as with herself. Throughout the 1960s and early '70s, Nabokov was the novelist Oates most frequently invoked as the epitome of the pure aesthetician who writes with no purpose but delight in language. While living in Detroit, she has said, she 'was galvanized to believe that the writing of a novel should be more than purely private, domestic, or even, contrary to the reigning Nabokovian imperatives of the day, apolitical and aesthetic? (Afterword to A Garden of Earthly Delights). Introduction ? xxi *Greg Johnson, Invisible Writer: A Biography of Joyce Carol Oates (New York: Dutton, 1998), p. 160. 'Ibid.
In The Anxiety of Influence, Harold Bloom has argued that strong artists repress the writers who most tempt them to imitation, and perhaps Oates herself was unaware of her attraction to Nabokov's art. Her hint that 'the most immediate model for the novel's peculiar tone was evidently Thomas Nashe's The Unfortunate Traveler . . . my narrator alludes to 'that other unfortunate traveler from whom I have stolen so much,' ? is misleading if not a deliberate leg-pull. In her Afterword, she does kindly tip-off the eager reader-detective that she herself in re-reading Nashe 'can see only occasional and glancing similarities.' In fact, Richard Everett often sounds like the perverse narrator of Nabokov's Lolita, Humbert Humbert, in his unfortunate travels across the United States. Along with false clues, Nabokovian chess games, fake historical notes, mock-English houses and mock-English prep schools, and themes of bingeing and purging (one character eats himself to death), the novel features puns and literary parodies, especially an extended one of the Partisan Review, called The Transamerican Quarterly. The editor of this journal, a 'professional intellectual? named Moe Malinsky, who is brought to Fernwood by the Village Great Books Discussion Club, is a greedy snob and hypocrite, who brags of meeting Princess Margaret and fighting Norman Mailer, and stuffs himself on the canap's while condemning the suburban lifestyle. Oates's comments on the Review, via Richard, are merciless: 'the magazine gives you a general frontal headache,' with its articles on Soviet economic growth and the decline of American art. Nabokovian literary games and labyrinths may be apolitical, Oates seems to suggest, but they are much more interesting than socialist realism. Matricide is an extreme solution to the dilemma of the Female Gothic. Oates acknowledged in her Afterword that 'the novel's thinly codified secret? was 'the execution of an ambitious woman writer as fit punishment for having gone beyond the 'limits of her world''upstate New York.' Nada is no suburban mom, but an artist, trying both to fit into the 'normal world? of the xxii ? Introduction
American family and also to compete in the macho world of publishing. Like Virginia Woolf 's essay on 'Killing the Angel in the House,' Nada's fictional execution is Oates's nightmare solution to the burdens of femininity facing the serious woman artist. them (1969) Some of the metafictional aspects of Expensive People carried over into Oates's next novel, them. Oates introduced her epic story about a white working-class family with an 'Author's Note,' describing the book as 'a work of history in fictional form,' based on the recollections of one of the characters, 'Maureen Wendall,' and some readers took it literally, writing to ask how the Wendalls were doing. Oates herself appeared as a character in the novel, as the recipient of two letters from Maureen, who says she took a course on 'Introduction to Literature? from 'Miss Oates? at the University of Detroit in 1964, got an 'F,' but has never forgotten the teacher's apparent sense of control, happiness, and faith in books like Madame Bovary. The letters allow Maureen to confront the novelist, and protest against her relative powerlessness and insignificance as a woman whose life is much drabber than those in books. Indeed, them cannot imagine any self-determination for its women characters. Its central story contrasts the experience of Maureen and her brother Jules, growing up in inner-city Detroit. She is the more bookish and intellectual sibling, but like Clara in A Garden of Earthly Delights, Maureen is doomed by her femaleness she is frantic to escape, but has no way to earn money or get away except prostitution. When her stepfather finds out that she has been getting paid for sex, he beats her so badly that she becomes virtually comatose for two years. And this is a metaphor for all women's lives even a rich woman, as one character says, 'lives in a dream, waiting for a man. There is no way out of this, insulting as it is, no woman can escape it.' In contrast, Jules, partly modeled on Julien Sorel of StenIntroduction ? xxiii
dhal's The Red and the Black, understands that even at his weakest he has more power than a woman. 'A woman in a car only appears to be in control!' he thinks as a teenager. 'Inside, her machinery is as wobbly and nervous as the machinery of her car.' One of Jules's first jobs is playing messenger boy for a petty gangster who gives him a gun and sends him out to buy a Cadillac. Yet Jules has grandiose dreams of greatness he feels fated to become an important man, and wants to model himself on the Indian mystic and theorist of nonviolence Vinoba Bhave, about whom he reads in Time magazine. He internalizes Bhave's words: 'Fire merely burns . . . Fire burns and does its duty. It is for others to do theirs.' But Jules misunderstands this message as an endorsement of violence and anarchy, and carries it with him until he sees it embodied in the Detroit riots, with which them ends. Oates's version of the riots is apocalyptic, with Mort, the professor who is the leader of the student radicals, on a death and ego trip, the students arguing about whether Lyndon Johnson or Martin Luther King would be more suitable targets for assassination, the black families looting, and the police as brutal and out of control as the rest. Jules joins the radical group and speaks on television for its 'beliefs': 'It is only necessary to understand that fire burns and does its duty, perpetually, and the fires will never be put out. . . . Violence can't be singled out from an ordinary day! . . . Everyone must live through it again and again, there's no end to it.' In our last sight of him, Jules is heading to California in an air-conditioned car, to use political organizing as a route to making big money in real estate. Somehow he has become the American Dream of success who will profit from the destruction of the weak. Wonderland (1971) Wonderland covers some of the same historical period as them but from a more surreal and openly Gothic perspective. In her Afxxiv ? Introduction
terword, Oates has called the book 'bizarre and obsessive,' a 'torrential experience of novel-writing,' and a plunge into the 'vortex of being.' Her hero, Jesse Vogel, is the only survivor of his family's massacre by his deranged father by good fortune, and through the help of various adoptive parents and mentors, he becomes a neurosurgeon who is fascinated by and drawn to the freakish, the grotesque, and the monstrous, although he wishes only to heal. Wonderland ends with Jesse's daughter Michelle'Shelly, or 'Shell,' as she calls herself'running away with a counterculture guru, Noel. Jesse sets out to rescue her from a commune on Yonge Street in Toronto'an ironically hellish haven for the drugged young. As soon as Oates had finished the novel, in 1971, she became unhappy with its ending, in which Jesse takes his emaciated daughter out on a boat in Lake Ontario. 'I think it is a very dark, relentless work, and I wonder if you might not be receptive to a modified ending'? she wrote to her editor at Vanguard. As Oates later explained, she 'could not end with a small boat drifting out helplessly to sea . . . it had to end with a gesture of demonicpaternal control? (Afterword to Wonderland ). In the new ending, Jesse 'rescues? Shelley, but of course she is once again forced into the role of the Gothic heroine, dependent on male intervention. As Oates herself observed in the Afterword, 'In retrospect, it seems that Shelley Vogel was crying out for a novel of her own, a story that was not a mere appendage of her father's but this was a novel that I could not, or would not write.' In many respects, Wonderland was a turning point in Oates's career. As she told Newsweek reporter Walter Clemons in December 1972, she decided to 'move towards a more articulate moral position,' and to show ways of transcending problems. One way in which she achieved this goal was to allow her female characters novels of their own'to imagine them as autonomous figures, with their own dreams and voices, who could change their lives through will. Another way was to move beyond her poor white characters and take on the experiences and perspecIntroduction ? xxv
tives of another 'them''the black Americans who are observed, feared, and sometimes envied by the white protagonists of the Wonderland Quartet, but who never speak for themselves. In every decade and in every novel, Oates has powerfully reinvented herself, but the Wonderland Quartet, written in the 'white heat? of youthful imagination and fervor, remains not only relevant but prophetic about the widening social and economic gulf in American society, the self-destructive violence of political extremism, and the terrifying hubris of science and technology. Bringing to life an unforgettable range of men and women, the Wonderland Quartet offers a compelling introduction to a protean and prodigious contemporary artist. xxvi ? Introduction
For my husband, Raymond
. . . because we are poor Shall we be vicious? 'The White Devil ? J O H N W E B S T E R
Author's Note This is a work of history in fictional form'that is, in personal perspective, which is the only kind of history that exists. In the years 1962'1967 I taught English at the University of Detroit, which is a school run by Jesuits and attended by several thousand students, many of them commuting students. It was during this period that I met the 'Maureen Wendall? of this narrative. She had been a student of mine in a night course, and a few years later she wrote to me and we became acquainted. Her various problems and complexities overwhelmed me, and I became aware of her life story, her life as the possibility for a story, perhaps drawn to her by certain similarities between her and me? as she remarks in one of her letters. My initial feeling about her life was, 'This must be fiction, this can't all be real!' My more permanent feeling was, 'This is the only kind of fiction that is real.' And so the novel them, which is truly about a specific 'them? and not just a literary technique of pointing to us all, is based mainly upon Maureen's numerous recollections. Her remarks, where possible, have been incorporated into the narrative verbatim, and it is to her terrible obsession with her personal history that I owe the voluminous details of this novel. For Maureen, this 'confession? had the effect of a kind of psychological
xxxiv ? Author's Note therapy, of probably temporary benefit for me, as a witness, so much material had the effect of temporarily blocking out my own reality, my personal life, and substituting for it the various nightmare adventures of the Wendalls. Their lives pressed upon mine eerily, so that I began to dream about them instead of about myself, dreaming and redreaming their lives. Because their world was so remote from me it entered me with tremendous power, and in a sense the novel wrote itself. Certain episodes, however, have been revised after careful research indicated that their context was confused. Nothing in the novel has been exaggerated in order to increase the possibility of drama'indeed, the various sordid and shocking events of slum life, detailed in other naturalistic works, have been understated here, mainly because of my fear that too much reality would become unbearable. Since then we have all left Detroit'Maureen is now a housewife in Dearborn, Michigan I am teaching in another university and Jules Wendall, that strange young man, is probably still in California. One day he will probably be writing his own version of this novel, to which he will not give the rather disdainful and timorous title them.
Children of Silence
One warm evening in August 1937 a girl in love stood before a mirror. Her name was Loretta. It was her reflection in the mirror she loved, and out of this dreamy, pleasing love there arose a sense of excitement that was restless and blind'which way would it move, what would happen? Her name was Loretta she was pleased with that name too, though Loretta Botsford pleased her less. Her last name dragged down on her, it had no melody. She stood squinting into the plastic-rimmed mirror on her bureau, trying to get the best of the light, seeing inside her high-colored, healthy, ordinary prettiness a hint of something daring and dangerous. Looking into the mirror was like looking into the future everything was there, waiting. It was not just that face she loved. She loved other things. During the week she worked at Ajax Laundry and Dry Cleaners, and she was very lucky to have that job, and during the week the steamy, rushed languor of her work built up in her a sense of excitement. What was going to happen? Today was Saturday. Her face was full, and there was a slight mischievous puffiness about her cheeks that made her look younger than she was'she was sixteen'and her eyes were blue, a mindless, bland blue, not very sharp. Her lips were painted a deep scarlet, exactly the style of the day. Her eyebrows were plucked in exactly the style of the day. Did she not dream over the Sunday supplement features, and did she not linger on her way to work before the Trinity Theater in order to stare at the pictures? She wore a navy-blue dress pulled in tight at the waist. Her waist was surprisingly narrow, her shoulders a little broad, almost masculine she was a strong girl. Upon her competent shoulders sat this fluttery, dreamy head, blond hair puffed out and falling down in coquettish curls past her ears, past her collar, down onto her back, so
that when she ran along the sidewalk it blew out behind her and men stopped to stare at her never did she bother to glance back at these men'they were like men in movies who do not appear in the foreground but only focus interest, show which way interest should be directed. She was in love with the thought of this. Behind her good clear skin was a universe of skin, all of it healthy. She loved this, she was in love with the fact of girls like her having come into existence, though she could not have expressed her feelings exactly. She said to her friend Rita, 'Sometimes I feel so happy over nothing I must be crazy.' Dragging around in the morning, trying to get her father up and trying to get her brother Brock fed and out before somebody started a fight, still she felt a peculiar sense of joy, of prickly excitement, that nothing could beat down. What was going to happen? 'Oh, you're not crazy,' Rita said thoughtfully, 'you just haven't been through it yet.' She combed her hair with a heavy pink brush. It worried her to see her curls so listless'that was because of the heat. From the apartment across the way, through the open window, she could hear a radio playing music that meant Saturday night, and her heart began to pound with anticipation of the long hours ahead during which anything might happen. Her father, who had been out of work for almost ten years, liked to lie in bed and drink and smoke, not caring that so many hours rushed by he'd never be able to get back'but Loretta felt that time was passing too quickly. It made her nervous. She scratched at her bare arm with the brush in a gentle, unconscious, caressing gesture, and felt the dreaminess of the late summer afternoon rise in her. In the kitchen someone sat down heavily, as if answering her, in response to her wondering. 'Hey, Loretta!' Brock called. 'Yeah, I'm coming.' Her voice came out harsh and sounded of the dry cleaners and the street, but it was not her true voice her true voice was husky and feminine. She prepared supper for Brock. The kitchen was narrow, and he had to sit right in her way, so that she made a face and said, 4 ? Joyce Carol Oates
'Excuse me,' ironically, squeezing past. Brock was dressed for Saturday night too. He wore a blue serge coat over gray trousers and a queer metallic bronze necktie. A necktie! It was part of Brock's batty style. He had turned twenty a few weeks before, which seemed to Loretta almost old and on his pinched face an expression of premature cunning seemed to have frozen, as in a movie still. Like Loretta, he had blond hair, but it seemed to be darkening he rarely washed it, maybe once a month'it was stiff with grease. He had a strong, angular face with prominent cheekbones. This had been their mother's face. Strange how, since their mother's death some years before, Loretta had begun to notice her sometimes in Brock's face. And in his sudden, impulsive bursts of rage'Brock was always incensed by the old man and certain noisy neighbors'she could see her mother's restless agitation it was disturbing. 'Jesus Christ, is that perfume you're wearing'? Brock screwed up his face like a clown. 'Go to hell. You're not funny.' Brock laughed, meanly. Loretta took a bowl of potatoes out of the icebox and put them into a frying pan she had peeled them earlier. The grease sizzled and spat up at her. She resented cooking for her brother yet there was a strange pleasure in it. I do this. This is what I do. Brock liked her waiting on him, she knew. Sitting there at the end of the table so self-importantly, like the malicious spitting of grease: she had only to glance at his amused eyes to see how hateful he was. 'Look, what the hell is eating you'? Loretta cried. Brock smiled innocently. 'Is the old man back yet'? 'You know he isn't.' 'How do I know? I've got X-ray eyes'? 'He went out this morning with that Cole to look at some vacant lot. Oh, I know it's crazy'don't look at me.' 'What vacant lot? He's going to buy a vacant lot'? 'Ask him.' 'With what? Where's the money? What's he going to buy it with'? them ? 5
Brock was getting excited. Saliva shone on his lips. 'Brock, forget it! Pa isn't hurting anyone.' 'He's sick. He should be carted away.' 'Carted away where'? 'Should be locked up.' Brock leaned forward on his elbows and spoke in his rapid, insinuating voice, as if he meant something other than his words, and you were a fool not to catch on. Oh, he was hateful! He was Loretta's brother and in the years of their childhood he had done well by her'he'd fought with older kids who teased her, following the rule of the street, but that was maybe for his own honor, not her. At one time no one could have guessed that Brock Botsford, the long-limbed stooping kid with the blue-eyed stare and quick fists, would grow so much apart from the other boys, precocious, yet in a way stunted, into this strange, mock-serious oldyoung man. Beneath his sly words and his facial mannerisms, a perverse and malicious will. Loretta dreaded her girl friends talking with Brock, attracted by his cheap flashy clothes and movie-style, then edging away, nervously giggling, 'Isn't that guy queer'? In that way that girls do, with absolute accuracy. 'Oh, you talk too much sometimes! Get a job yourself, a good job, if you think you're superior to him,' Loretta said, incensed. She sat at the other end of the table, as far from Brock as possible. But the table was small, she couldn't escape his presence. He was leaning across the table with his restless drumming fingers he could take hold of her wrist if he wished. He'd done this, a trick of his, twisting the wrist until she cried out in pain, many times. Just kidding! She looked uneasily at his free hand as he ate with the other . . . His hands were always dirty, he worked in a machine shop, the nails ridged with grease, and beneath the grime his skin was waxy pale as their mother's had been. For such death-colored skin Loretta had no love, only pity it worried her, Brock was her brother, maybe his health was not right. She loved him, didn't she? There was a grudging bond between them. Brock drifted from job to job, but even when he was out of work he seemed to have money. Mystery-money, he called it. On the 6 ? Joyce Carol Oates
street he hung out with his punk-friends from school, smoking and laughing at Brock's wild jokes, glancing at Loretta if she caught on. Oh, she caught on! Every other word spilling from a guy's mouth was dirty. She considered Brock's friends hopeless bastards. Brock was maybe a bastard, but not yet hopeless. Was he? The newspaper, the radio, things you hear from adults, you understand that the world divides in two: those who were hopeless, losers, a big pack of them, and those headed for somewhere. These were men and boys, of course: females, Loretta didn't even consider. But boys like her cousin Frank Benyas for instance. Yes, Frank had been in Children's Court a half-dozen times, he'd made his mother's life miserable, yet there was a certain severity about them, a determination to get somewhere. Frank was now a printer's apprentice and he would do all right. Other boys like Joe Krajenke and Floyd Sloan and Bernie Malin, especially Bernie, who'd been in trouble as kids, spending time in Juvie Hall, still their eyes didn't glint with the nerved-up malice of Brock's'they were decent, in their souls. You could trust them, maybe. Especially Bernie Malin. Loretta felt a jab of excitement when she thought of Bernie, his eyes on her, his easy smile . . . She could lose herself in thoughts of Bernie for long dreamy minutes. Oh, Bernie lost his temper sometimes, he had a dirty mouth like any guy, but he'd apologize, and he had a job, at least Loretta thought he had a job. Whatever it was that prevented people from falling through the bottom of the world the way her father had fallen, and Brock seemed to be falling, Bernie had it, it was a mystery wasn't it? 'You are such an'aggravating bastard,' Loretta said. This was brave and bold and maybe a little reckless. Provoking Brock, did she want to risk it? But sometimes he liked her speaking hard and fast to him, the way a sister should speak to a brother, hiding nothing. Telling the truth. For who else would tell Brock the truth? He watched her closely, his eyes narrowed. She was sitting upright, her shoulders slightly raised, tense. 'Last night, that was so stupid! It was cruel. You egg him on, and he says things, and you get mad at him, it's like lighting a match and dropping it, and them ? 7
why? And that gun of yours! That isn't a real gun, is it? I bet it isn't.' She thought of something, frowning. She saw him watching her. 'Are you trying to give him a stroke or something'? Brock laughed. 'What an imagination, kid.' 'A'heart attack? He gets so red in the face, and panting.' 'Why not, after what he did to Ma'? 'That wasn't his fault.' 'Whose, then'? 'He couldn't help getting laid off, Jesus! Everybody was, they shut half the plant down. Ma was wrong to blame him for that, she was always crazy that way needing to blame, blame, blame.' Brock said coldly, 'Don't call her crazy, you.' 'She was! You know it.' 'Nobody in our family is craz-y. Don't spread the word.' Loretta understood. Crazy was a place, like the back of a vacant lot where things have been dumped, trash and garbage and rotting things, where you don't want to go. 'Well, look,' Loretta said, trying to smile, to soften the tension between them, 'I'm not defending either one of them! I'm fed up with it. With home. So Pa won't work, says he's afraid? well, Rita's father is the same. They got the shakes, their hands. Sometimes it's so bad, Pa can't light a cigarette, I got to do it for him. Jeez! He sees cockroaches that aren't there, and I look, where he's pointing, and a cockroach peeps out. Why d'you always blame people for things they can't help? Ma believed in God, some kind of nasty-minded God, but you, you don't, do you''so why blame people'? It was a long speech that left her breathless, and pleased with herself. 'What's that got to do with it? Believing in God'? 'I just don't give a damn about it. I don't look back on it, that's all.' 'Well, I do.' 'What are you going to do with that gun'? Brock tapped at his forehead with his fingers and pretended to think. 'I'm going to kill somebody with it,' he said seriously. Loretta said 'Tsk,' to show her disgust, and stood up to stir 8 ? Joyce Carol Oates
the potatoes. She showered them with pepper. Let him burn his mouth out, the miserable bastard . . . She glanced over at him and saw how bent his shoulders were, even inside the new coat. Twenty years old! It had taken him two weeks? pay to buy that coat, and as soon as he'd bought it he'd turned sneering about it, ashamed of it she had no idea why. That was Brock! Wanting something for a year, wanting something all his life, as soon as he got it it would turn to garbage in his hands and he'd be left sneering down at it, puzzled. She felt sorry for him. She said, 'Are you keeping it for somebody, is that it'? 'Who wants to know'? 'You're keeping it for Harry Honigan.' Harry Honigan was a neighborhood character who had gone on to better things, so he said, and had an apartment farther uptown and a good car unfortunately he had been sentenced to ten years in prison just the other day. Brock had always hung around him like a puppy. When Honigan was in trouble he drifted back to the neighborhood, where his mother took him in and fed him well and wept over him, and his grandmother and aunts crowded around him, protecting him, and at such times Brock might get to see him. When things were good no one heard of Harry for months. 'It's got something to do with Harry,' Loretta said. 'Aren't you smart.' 'Are you keeping the gun for him? When does he think he's getting out'? 'No, it has nothing to do with Honigan. He's finished.' 'Oh, he'll get out again, won't he'? 'He's finished.' Loretta stirred some hash in with the potatoes. She stirred it slowly round and round, thinking of Harry Honigan, who was finished. 'Well, that's too bad,' she said. 'Might be that I feel like killing somebody,' Brock said slyly, as if she'd forgotten what they were talking about. 'Sure.' Brock had gone through spurts in his childhood, through 'phases,' as their mother kept saying. For a while he had been them ? 9
thought simple-minded because he was slow to hit other kids back and slow to respond at school. And he'd been very small for his age. Then, in fifth grade at the nuns? school, he had begun to grow and get smarter, and then he had the reputation of being a little crazy. It was Brock who crawled on the school roof one day, just for fun, and across the railroad tracks that went over the canal, and it was Brock who ran yodeling and flailing his arms when a policeman was after all the boys. Brock had done it to make fun of his own terror, to make fun of running itself'that was the kind of strange thing about him that people didn't understand. When a drunken cop had beaten him up one night, mistaking him for somebody else, Brock had lain in an alley, bleeding, and when somebody found him his first remark had been, 'I landed without my parachute!' So he was peculiar. He wasn't crazy exactly. You couldn't decide what was what and forget him, though of course he was a hopeless bastard in general and would never accomplish anything, he was too wild but there was no joy in his wildness, she saw that. From the time he was thirteen until his eighteenth birthday he'd been secretive and edgy, miserable to have around the house like his mother, he could go for weeks without smiling. Now that he was twenty, now that he was out on his own and had a little money, he was more gentlemanly to Loretta in an ironic, overdone way. She couldn't figure him out. She couldn't take him seriously. While he ate, she scraped the frying pan noisily and ran water in the sink. Their father hadn't come home all day no supper for him. She'd have to put supper in the oven. She stood on her toes and tried to look out the window, but all she could see was a fire escape on the building across the way. A German family lived there, four mean kids and a mean old man and a woman who spoke only German. They had to be taken seriously. Downstairs in this building was an old, soiled woman whose name Loretta did not know. She saw her all the time. And down the way, out on the street, people were already beginning to drift into the city heat, not really minding the heat but oddly pleased with it, its fluidity, as if they were creatures in a sea who were all kin, bound 10 ? Joyce Carol Oates
by the same element, which touches them on every pore and draws them helplessly together. 'Where are you going tonight'? Brock said suddenly. 'Out.' 'With who'? 'Who wants to know'? 'I do. I want to know.' Loretta folded her arms. She felt like a heroine in a movie, confronted by a jealous husband in a kitchen while outside the camera is aching to draw back and show a wonderland of adventures waiting for her'long, frantic rides on trains, landscapes of wounded soldiers, a lovely white desert across which a camel caravan draped voluptuously in veils moves slowly with a kind of mincing melancholy, the steamy jungles of India opening before British officers in white, young officers, the mysteries of English drawing-rooms cracking before the quick, humorless smirk of a wise young woman from America. . . . Brock was staring at her. She watched as his jaws ground the food she'd made for him, and she had the idea that he wasn't tasting it. That was Brock's problem'he never tasted anything. 'If it's any of your business,' she said, 'I'm going to see Sissy.' 'Sissy'? Brock said. Sissy was an old friend of Loretta's who was not pretty like Loretta, whose waist was thick, who went about in embroidered blouses her grandmother made'a half-blind old woman who never left her room'and who therefore had an outdated European peasant look, a blunt, innocent look, very dull. Sissy herself was a nice girl. About her Brock could never say anything bad, his mind simply stopped. So he stared at Loretta. 'We're going to cut out patterns for a dress. She's going to help me,' Loretta said. 'You're lying.' 'I am not lying!' Brock lifted the food to his mouth with the natural fastidiousness of someone who dislikes eating. He grinned at her suddenly. 'You know, I been hearing some things about you, sweetheart.' 'What things'? them ? 11
'You know.' 'I don't give a damn. It's all lies.' 'Bernie Malin, is that a lie'? Loretta felt her face get hot. 'What about him? Did you talk to him'? 'I wouldn't talk with a punk like that! What is he, sixteen years old? A punk like that? Somebody said you and him were fooling around not too long ago.' 'Let them talk.' 'Don't you go bringing him up here.' 'I don't bring anybody up here, not to this dump.' 'Well, don't.' 'Maybe I already have'what then? Maybe I already did bring him!' 'Did you'? 'What business is it of yours? I live here, I come and go by myself, on my own, I work and make my own money. I don't have to take any shit from you. If you don't like it you can move out! A twenty-year-old punk yourself! Why don't you move out anyway'? 'So Bernie can move in'? 'Oh, the hell with that!' Loretta was flushed and beneath her anger, rather pleased. 'Bernie's all right,' she said. 'I like him. But he's nothing special. I told you I was just going to see Sissy. I don't fool around with kids like him and get a bad reputation. When I get married it won't be to any kid like that.' Brock had finished eating. He pushed his plate away, in the manner of his father and other men they knew there was something about the gesture that both irritated Loretta and made her want to laugh. They were so predictable! 'Seems to me you're pretty interested in my business,' Loretta said. 'Don't you have any business of your own to worry about'? 'No.' 'Why don't you take some girl out yourself? Why don't you spend a little money? All you do is play pinball and stand around 12 ? Joyce Carol Oates
with those asshole friends of yours that even you can see are dopes. What's wrong with you anyway'? 'I am a mystery to myself,' Brock said, smiling coldly. 'Oh, if you're going to talk crazy!' She took his plate from him and put it in the sink. Stacked in the sink were a half-dozen dishes, some of them still crusted with food silverware lay in a heap. One of the forks was caught under a plate and made the whole pile uneven. The very slowness of Loretta's movements, the very fact of the cramped little kitchen built up a pressure in her, in her bones. She was uneasy. She did not really mind. She did not even mind Brock's teasing, which she was used to anyway and which never came to anything. All her life she had been teased. Children were teased, especially girls it was inescapable. Before her father had gotten bad he had teased her and made her cry, without meaning to, and she remembered her grandfather, too, bothering her, pulling her hair, a mean-smelling old man with stained whiskers who fought with her grandmother, shouting and shrieking in another language. That past was connected with another city, a slummy two-family house across from a coal yard where all the kids played, and with a different kind of work'optimistic work, like the kind her grandfather had had. He had made thousands of dollars in a single month with his construction crew and then lost it all in a way Loretta could never figure out and didn't care much about'because to her and to the other women in the family it was lost and that was that'an incontestable and somehow respectable fact! That old man had teased her lovingly, and she'd had enough sense to know that he loved her, so when he died she had not pulled away like Brock from the bed where he had been pleading for them'she'd been right there. And her own father had teased her in that curious way, showing love, while her mother had scraped pans angrily and dropped things in the sink to let them break, showing what she thought of fooling around and of love when there was so much work to be done, always. Then the whole family had picked up and moved themselves to this city in a hired truck, and in the very room next to this them ? 13
kitchen Loretta's mother had died five years ago. Now the old man slept there alone. Had it ever really been a death-room? Nobody could tell, nobody could really remember except Brock. He liked to say, 'The old man killed her,' and Loretta was sure to shout back, 'Like hell he did! She's the one who killed him,' as if it were important to get things straight, to get at the truth. What was the truth? Lying around the house were old snapshots of her father: a dark-haired man with a smiling, quizzical look. The man who stumbled around this miserable apartment and was sick in the bathroom and in bed and who whined for Loretta all the time (what had he done with that money he'd saved, for example'), was not the same man, sorry to say. Two different men, two different times. Once he had worked with a construction crew, building houses, dozens and dozens of houses, tacking up siding and building garages with yellow trim, and he had had his own car, and when things had started caving in, all the relatives had told him enviously, 'Well, people will always need houses to live in!''which turned out not to be true. Houses were not built, half-built houses stayed half built, until kids pillaged them or the weather itself beat them down. It was 1930. It was 1931. Loretta's father went to work as a night watchman but he lost that job in a few months to someone's brother-in-law''Likely story,' his wife said'and after that he worked wherever he could get a job, even selling papers. Loretta remembered all those years. And then, when younger people began getting jobs again, back from government projects and optimistic from the government checks that became as regular and permanent as the cycle of the seasons itself, her father had gone back to building. But the times weren't quite right yet and so he waited a few years, and the times never got quite right for him. He was terrified and couldn't make sense of his terror, so he had started drinking. The young men who had jobs didn't keep them either, because the times backed up and shook people off, but Loretta's father kept drinking and finally he was a kind of aged youngish man of the type Loretta often saw on Sunday mornings, sleeping in the doorways of churches or 14 ? Joyce Carol Oates
closed shops. That was that. A change, a different man. A new man. When he got a job with a warehouse, unloading trucks, he'd come back home at noon on the first day, explaining that he had dropped a carton of glassware and then admitting that he hadn't dropped anything because he had been afraid to try, afraid of dropping it and getting into debt for it. And so he kept on until the present, coming and going and not really getting in Loretta's way unless he was sick to his stomach or made a mess of some kind. 'Well, don't you get in any trouble tonight,' Brock said. 'Don't you.' She followed him into his room, the 'parlor,' because there was something not finished yet between them. She didn't know what. In her blue dress, with her hair shining and wavy, she felt that she had a right to get things clear with him. Brock took a comb out of his pocket and flicked it through his hair quickly, returning it to his pocket in almost the same gesture. His hair, long unwashed, was never mussed and kept the same shape for weeks. He put some kind of hair lotion on it that made Loretta think of bicycle wheels, the grease that gets on your fingers from them. Impulsively she touched his coat pocket. She felt the weight of the gun inside. 'So you've still got that gun!' Brock pushed her away. 'Really, what's going on'? Loretta said. 'Nothing.' 'Where did you get it'? 'Nowhere.' 'But what are you going to do'? She stared at him. For the first time she wondered if he was serious. 'I don't know yet.' The cheekbones of his pale, lean face looked particularly sharp it was as if the bones of his face were thinking for him. 'You're going to get in some trouble,' Loretta said. She spoke in the fatal, final, partly satisfied singsong her mother and other women in the family had used, as if they'd already come to the them ? 15
end of all the worst possibilities and were waiting there for the men to catch up. 'No, I'm not. I don't know what I'm going to do,' Brock said. He took out the gun and weighed it in the palm of his hand. Was it real? Loretta stared, swallowing hard. It did look real. It was a cheap tarnished revolver, with a snub barrel and a badly worn wooden grip. Loretta had seen a similar revolver when she'd been at her cousin Irma's house and she'd walked into the kitchen where some guys were hanging out, and on the table was a gun. She'd been so scared, she'd smiled. She was smiling now, her heart quickening. 'If you give it to me'I'll hide it for you, Brock.' Brock laughed, pulling away. 'Why'd I give it to you? Think I'm craz-y'? 'What if'Pa finds it? His hands so shaky what if he shoots himself? If he drops it'? 'Pa won't find it.' 'Why are you grinning like that'? 'Who, me'? 'You asshole! This isn't funny.' 'So who's laughing'? The corners of Brock's mouth were upturned like a malevolent clown's his cheeks were bunched muscles. A mottled flush had risen in his sickly pale skin. 'Brock, are you going to'wait for Pa? Start a fight'? 'Nope. I got better things to do.' 'When he comes in drunk you're going to start a fight? Are you'? 'I don't start those fights, he does.' 'You look at him like you do. Come on, Brock!' 'I told you, kid. I got better things to do.' Brock patted in the direction of his crotch. Meaning getting laid. Fat chance! Loretta said quickly, 'He'll be out all night, for sure. He'll be back in the morning, a mess. Look, you're not going to hurt him, are you'? 'I said no.' 'Why are you acting so crazy then'? 16 ? Joyce Carol Oates
He laughed and put the gun back in his pocket. He was ready to leave. 'Well, go on, go out! Get out of here!' Loretta cried. When he left she wandered back to her room to check her appearance. Perspiration had gathered in little beads on her forehead'she hated that. She dabbed them off with a handkerchief. Thinking about Brock got no one anywhere, she knew that he'd been in and out of Children's Court years ago and he'd been picked up and kept overnight in jail many times it had no effect on him either to make him wiser or shrewder, and other people's thinking about him had no effect either. What he liked best was to sit and read newspapers and let the papers fall to the floor when he was finished with them. But he never talked about what he read, never said anything. He had secrets. With his stupid friends he could bellow and snicker like any idiot, but that was a disguise too, they didn't know him and nobody knew him, and consequently nobody exactly trusted him. Loretta pushed him out of her mind and leaned closer to the mirror, so close that her breath made a fine film on it, and the image that stared back at her with watchful, expectant eyes was the only subject of interest to her soul. Was her face beautiful? It was getting late. She began to hurry. All the wonders of the street crowded to her mind, which was already a little wild from the nonsense with her brother, and she caressed her freckled arm slowly, fondly, not thinking. She simply stood in the dim little bedroom as if she were taking a confused, final leave of it, not thinking. She was Loretta. It did not upset her that other girls like herself popped up everywhere, healthy and ready for a laugh, ready for a good time after a week of work she liked the fact that there were so many Lorettas, that she'd seen two girls in one week with a sailor outfit like her own, and a hundred girls with curly hair flung back over their shoulders! Her girl friend Sissy was the only girl who wore those heavy embroidered blouses, beautiful blouses with scarlet and green and yellow threads woven silkily into designs of peacocks and windmills, them ? 17
and Sissy would never meet herself coming and going, but Loretta was not Sissy, Loretta was Loretta. She put some more lipstick on and went out. Walking down the street, she felt her very heels buoyed by the tense gaiety of Saturday night. Everyone was out! She half expected to see Brock skulking about at the corner, where he and his friends sometimes stood, and she wouldn't have been surprised to see her father sitting on someone's front stoop with his arms hanging down between his thin knees, given up, a wreck, asleep with his eyes open. She didn't see them but she saw everyone else. The calves of her legs took strength from the hard, hot flatness of the sidewalk, everyone's sidewalk, and she smiled and shot greetings out to people airing themselves after supper'she knew everyone and everyone knew her. It wasn't such a bad neighborhood. Her mother had hated it, but the neighborhood wasn't bad people just liked to walk around a little and relax after a long week, and sometimes they got into trouble, but it didn't last. There was nothing wrong with that. From Monday until Saturday noon Loretta's back and shoulders and arms ached from her work, and her hair had to be pulled back in a miserable frazzled knot, and she knew she was nothing much to look at, but on Saturday night everything was changed. The men took off their dirty workclothes and put on cheap-stylish clothes like Brock's, shined their shoes, manipulated their hair into place the unmarried girls did over their faces with tweezers and eyebrow pencils and rouge and anything else on hand, and put ribbons in their hair in imitation of a movie star or let their hair slide over one eye in imitation of another movie star'and all this was marvelous, all this was wonderful! Loretta believed that the very universe opened up on Saturday night, that the tight little secretive cells burst into lovely buds. Who would want to be a prude? What kind of losers (girls from Loretta's parish school, which she had quit last spring) would go around at this time trying to sell salve in transparent blue jars with religious pictures thrown in free, or trying to sell tickets for a church raffle? 18 ? Joyce Carol Oates
This was a small city in northeastern Ohio, on a canal, and it had grown up jaggedly around the canal, spreading out in two irregular half-moons, with bumps and hollows of still vacant land and other stretches of crowded and devastated tenement areas. The main business was a 'little steel? plant that employed men in a quarter of the city's families, and factories of other types and railroad yards and big warehouses were within range of Loretta's eyes, had she cared to climb to the top of her building and stare out over the warm haze of that evening. The air was hazy, yes, but melodic also, and rich with mysterious odors'a giant bakery down the street gave off a continuous smell of ferment that slightly tainted every one's taste, but still there were odors of flowers that were invisible and rich home-baking from open street-level windows and, by the Dwight Corner Tavern, a pleasant stale smell of beer and roast beef. Even across the street and down by the first of the bridges there was a carnival sense of abandon in the air, slightly stirred by the colorless waters beneath and the steady harsh falling of water from the locks. Had Loretta more time, or had there been fewer men hanging around, she would certainly have leaned dreamily on the bridge railing to watch the water pour through the locks'she'd done this hundreds of times'for everyone was eager, in the monotonous, fascinated way of people who live in cities built around canals, to see what kind of boat was coming through and whether anyone would dare toss a bottle or a piece of junk down onto it. But she passed across the curving bridge with hardly a glance down at the troubled waters far below'this bridge was very high above the canal, dizzyingly high'and she passed by the playground of the Catholic school she had gone to for years, marked off with high wire fences on which the kids had climbed all the time, and she passed the school itself, toward which she hardly glanced'really, Loretta no longer saw it'and on past the small group of men hanging around the firehouse in their shirt sleeves, some of them friends of her father's, and she paused to talk with them, laughing shyly and lowering her glance, stepping back in the brief pause of a conversation to let them know them ? 19
she had somewhere to go, she didn't really have time to spend with them. Loretta Botsford, and how she was growing up! In their eyes she was nearly grown up, which was a matter of lipstick and a certain self-conscious swing of her shoulders and hips, exactly in the style of the day'they acknowledged her, they let her go. Sissy's mother had a flat just above a drugstore on Main Street, which was no better than where Loretta herself lived. It was about five minutes away. So she had five minutes of a kind of wild, open freedom during which anything might happen. On the street men were driving by and might have been glancing at her, but she didn't look at them, and anyway most of them would be with girls at this time on Saturday night she looked ahead at the front of the clinic, to which she and Brock had taken their father ten or twelve times at least'a nightmare, that place, with small cubicles whose walls didn't even reach to the ceiling, and tired ugly nurses, and doctors her friend Rita called crooks since the time one of her babies had died of an ear infection. They were butchers, bastards, crooks. All of them had money such people had money because each patient was two dollars, and two dollars a head added up. It made you dizzy to think of all that money. And dentists were just as bad, or maybe they were worse. She never thought about her teeth, which were bad she didn't dare let herself think about those dull, relentless aches that paralyzed her some nights, going right to the bottom of her jaw, and her gums sometimes bled when she brushed her teeth'no, better not think of that, better forget it. She sucked ice when the pain got bad. When it got too bad she had the tooth yanked and paid three or four dollars and that was that. A streetcar clambered by, heavy with grillwork, and Loretta carefully did not look up to see who might be watching her'this gloomy thunder took the hill ahead of her and drew her up slowly behind it, Loretta now beginning to wonder if maybe her five minutes were running out without anyone knowing about it or caring. Buildings of gray-green, buildings with store fronts soaped and abandoned, and above them in a raucous confusion 20 ? Joyce Carol Oates
of radios people leaning out windows on their elbows, the expanse of their arms like the white expanse of curtains on either side of them, framing them. Someone called 'Loretta!' It was a girl from school. Loretta waved but hurried on past. When they'd first moved to this city'her father piling up all their junk in the back of a truck and driving the truck himself, coming to the city with a slow, dreary crowd of other country people (but people from farms, not 'business? people like themselves), all of them making the rounds of apartment buildings, asking timidly for rooms, for help, for directions to the nearest government buildings'she had first thought the city was terrifying. Now she loved it. When they had moved here she had been a child, and in that world of childhood each day had been a skirmish. Sometimes she had done well, sometimes she had failed, sometimes it had been pretty bad and she'd run with a bleeding face through alleys, prowling with horror amid the debris of vacant lots she could not recognize, afraid of angry mothers as well as strange kids'that hadn't been so nice, better to forget it. Brock, so dreamy and slow for years, had been bloodied up more than once and called a hillbilly, which he wasn't, when all he had to do was open his mouth to let them hear that he hadn't a Kentucky accent'and Loretta, a curly-haired little girl with confused impulses of tenderness and viciousness, had made her way painfully by courting the important kids in her class, knowing by instinct which girls were important, which girls had older brothers to protect them and were therefore valuable. But all that was past and indeed she rarely thought about it. She rose up out of childhood, and the terrors of its valleys and mountains sank to a monotonous landscape beneath her eyes, forgiving or indifferent or both, and though she knew the very same kids now who had tormented her as a child she did not really recognize them as those kids, and they did not recognize her, as each year drew them farther into adulthood. On her way to Sissy's she ran into Bernie Malin, who was with some friends of his, and in that slow, clumsy ballet of boys they edged away while he came to walk with her, smoking a cigarette them ? 21
and talking eagerly. 'What do you mean,' he said, 'going to make a dress! Sew a dress! Spend all that time sewing a dress? Don't tell me nobody sewed that one you're wearing, that's a real storebought dress, that's got style!' 'Oh, what do you know'? He was in front of her, blocking her way, and so she had to stop, and behind them at the corner his friends stood around, probably watching'she was upset when she should have been pleased, and she didn't understand this, but Bernie was the cause of it all and so she said coldly to him, 'Sissy and I made this date last week.' The word 'date? was a strange word to use to him. Bernie shrugged his shoulders and grinned at her. He was a smallish, slender boy, hardly taller than Loretta, but handsome in a doll-like way. Mechanical too were his mannerisms, which were centered mainly on his cigarette'bringing it to his pursed lips, taking it thoughtfully away'and Loretta felt a little dazed by this, unprepared, wondering what there was about him that so upset her. She said, 'Why don't you go fool around with your boy friends,' and he said, 'Those dopes don't exist for me.' The very expulsion of his breath excited her. They walked up the hill side by side. This was the better part of downtown, a single, long block of stores. Bernie's arm occasionally brushed against hers but neither seemed to notice it. He asked her about Brock. He asked her about certain friends of hers, boys they knew in common. He asked her about her father. His father had once worked with her father, and that connection seemed important to them both. They wandered over toward the canal, and at a break in the line of buildings they stood and leaned against the railing. It was getting dark. Down by the locks there was a building in which certain lock officials worked. Bernie said that he'd once sneaked down there, past the No Trespassing signs, and looked in the windows of their little building. Loretta said sarcastically that that must have taken some courage. Bernie asked her how she'd 22 ? Joyce Carol Oates
like to go swimming in the canal, right with all her clothes on. Loretta asked if he thought he could do that all by himself. Bernie said that a friend of his brother's was having some people over to his house for a party, and it would be nice if she could come. Loretta remembered and forgot Sissy in the same instant, frowning down at the lights bobbing on the water. Her attention was focused on finding out who this friend was. They explored their mutual acquaintances and the relationships among them, trying to find a link, some way of breaking through. He knew her brother and was a little afraid of him. She knew his brother and was a little afraid of him. Bernie leaned against the railing, as if it were a familiar place for him, facing her, and the way he laughed with his mouth hardly showing a smile and the way he brought his eyes up to her in a certain commanding movement made her give in. Loretta lived in a sweet confine of flesh: she exulted in her being, the joy of young, strong muscles, the leap of excitement in the blood when sometimes she simply drew a full breath. Her down-covered arms, her legs that were thicker than she wished, her round little belly and fleshy hips, the rosy radiance of her skin'these were all she had, but these were everything. Her eager blood yearned for the boy's eager blood each was leaning toward the other, unaware, like twin shoots drawn by the heat of the sun. Bernie smiled. 'Look, please, come with me, okay'? 'Huh! Why should I'? 'C'mon. You want to.' 'Could have asked me before just-this-minute.' Mysteriously Bernie shook his head. The gesture, so manly, adult-secretive, stabbed at Loretta's groin. 'Yeah, you know my name,' Loretta said, pouting. 'You know where I live.' 'Hell, I was working past six.' 'Where'? 'With my father.' He was boyish and sweetly nervous, leaning toward her. She them ? 23