Eric K. Anderson reviews Joyce Carol Oates’s memoir The Lost Landscape in Bearing Witness: Joyce Carol Oates Studies.
There is a confessional aspect to some chapters which concern enduring personal mysteries or things not often talked about among Oates’s family. This includes an account of a college friend who was plagued by destructive insecurities and eventually committed suicide. The lingering pain is felt in Oates’s emphatic connection to her lost friend: “You are as much myself as another. You are myself.” The sense of being a twin or the lucky half of a single being is felt even more intensely in the heartbreaking chapter about Oates’s much younger and severely-autistic sister Lynn. This doubling is even more evident because the sisters possess such physical similarities and were born on the same day of the year. Oates reflects how her sister is “A mirror-self, just subtly distorted. Sister-twin, separated by eighteen years.” One could make connections between these autobiographical passages and Oates’s frequent preoccupation with twins in her writing. More broadly, these feelings of empathy with those who are so similar to the author herself but who experienced a different fate reinforce Oates’s message throughout her writing that our existence is so often determined by mere chance.
Read the full review from Bearing Witness: Joyce Carol Oates Studies (pdf)
Image: Tree on the Tonawanda Creek by Howard Owens