A little girl who has witnessed a murder; a fragile, simple-minded woman deserted by her husband; a brilliant college student edging toward the brink of insanity; an American intellectual visiting in Poland, so closely identifying with “My Warszawa” that she finds her own sense of identity slipping away.
By Joyce Carol Oates
Long established in the front rank of contemporary American authors, Joyce Carol Oates is virtually unrivaled in the breadth and diversity of her achievements. The present volume, Last Days, reaffirms her continuing commitment to the short story, the form which first brought her to prominence in the early 1960s and which she has practiced since then with an ever-deepening mastery.
The eleven stories here, ranging from the realistic to the fantastic, reflect with uncanny perception the seismic disturbances of life in the present. These stories are, as one would expect from their author, intensely dramatic and irresistibly readable, but what sets them apart is her genius for imagining the lives of her characters. A little girl who has witnessed a murder; a fragile, simple-minded woman deserted by her husband; a brilliant college student edging toward the brink of insanity; an American intellectual visiting in Poland, so closely identifying with “My Warszawa” that she finds her own sense of identity slipping away; a diplomat who returns to the United States defiled by his experiences in a poverty-stricken North African country—all are evoked with compelling authenticity. Oates persuades us that this is how they must be. We are in the presence of an author whose vision of life becomes our own.
In Last Days, Joyce Carol Oates makes yet another memorable contribution to the American short story.
From “Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.”
Again this morning though I prayed hard to God otherwise it is snowing. It began around four-thirty when I first woke up to look out our bedroom window and now, hours later, it is still snowing. Great soft wet clumps the size of blossoms. And tomorrow is Easter Sunday. And the girls will be angry. Fist-sized clumps of snow, so silent. So slow. Falling in the woods, in the overgrown fields, in the old cow pasture where the rail fences are down. Falling and turning to lacy filigree in the trees out back. In all that underbrush Jonathan hadn’t finished clearing last fall. It is very beautiful probably, a benison of God. It is serene and comforting at least and all in silence. Therefore I dread the girls waking.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
- Prize Stories: The O Henry Awards, 1983, 2nd Prize: “My Warszawa”
- National Magazine Awards, 1983 finalist: “Ich Bin Ein Berliner”
- Prize Stories: The O Henry Awards, 1982: “The Man Whom Women Adored”
- The Pushcart Prize, VII: “Detente”
Daly, Brenda. “Sexual Politics in Two Collections of Joyce Carol Oates’s Short Fiction.” Studies in Short Fiction 32 (1995): 83-93.
Friedman, Ellen G. “Oates, Joyce Carol 1938-.” Modern American Women Writers. Ed. Elaine Showalter, Lea Baechler, and A. Walton Litz. New York: Scribner’s, 1991. 353-374.
Johnson, Greg. Understanding Joyce Carol Oates. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1987.
Sutherland, Kerry. “The Awkward Academic: Why Judith Reads James in Joyce Carol Oates’s ‘My Warszawa: 1980.'” Bearing Witness: Joyce Carol Oates Studies 2 (2015).
Zins, Daniel L. “Last Days and New Opportunities: Joyce Carol Oates Writes the End of the Cold War.” Joyce Carol Oates: A Study of the Short Fiction. Greg Johnson, Ed. New York: Twayne, 1994. 181-193.
Booklist, June 1, 1984, p1361
Publisher’s Weekly, June 8, 1984, p55-6
Library Journal, August 1984, p1468
Vogue, August 1984, p212
Washington Post Book World, September 30, 1984, p6
Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 30, 1984, p10
Chaelaine, November 1984, p4
Quill & Quire, November 1984, p42
Best Sellers, December 1984, p329
Women’s Review of Books, April 1985, p14
Times Literary Supplement, October 18, 1985, p1170
Punch, November 20, 1985, p95