By Joyce Carol Oates
In UPON THE SWEEPING FLOOD, Joyce Carol Oates again brings to the short story the prodigious talent that won her such critical acclaim in By the North Gate. Here are stories that are intense, ironic, sinister, and violent, reflecting incisively the mores of a frightening world in which love is complex and difficult, in which evil is ordinary, in which senseless actions lead to even more senseless non sequiturs, in which religion becomes antiseptic, in which families and societies exploit one another . . . in which the enemy is imagined to be external, but is, in reality, within.
Many of the stories have already been awarded prizes in Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards (for 1964 and 1965), and have been included in The Best American Short Stories, 1964 and Fifty Best American Short Stories, 1915-1965, and have appeared as well in such magazines as Southwest Review, Kenyon Review, Colorado Quarterly, and Cosmopolitan.
- The Survival of Childhood
- The Death of Mrs. Sheer
- First Views of the Enemy
- At the Seminary
- Norman and the Killer
- “The Man that Turned Into a Statue”
- What Death With Love Should Have To Do
- Upon the Sweeping Flood
“Oates has written many great books, and this one, though not discussed as often as her award-winning novels, is, in my opinion, her best work, and deserves to be mentioned as one of the best collections of stories in the latter half of the twentieth century.” —Alan Heathcock, From Upon the Sweeping Flood at 45
- Best American Short Stories, 1964: “Upon the Sweeping Flood”
- Prize Stories: The O Henry Awards, 1964: “Stigmata”
- Best American Short Stories, 1965: “First Views of the Enemy”
- Prize Stories: The O Henry Awards, 1965: “First Views of the Enemy”
UPON THE SWEEPING FLOOD
Oh! that Id had a tear to’ve quencht that flame
Which did dissolve the Heavens above
Into those liquid drops that Came
To drown our Carnall love.
Our cheeks were dry and eyes refused to weep.
Tears bursting out ran down the skies darke Cheek.
Were th’Heavens sick? must wee their Doctors bee
And physick them with pills, our sin?
To make them purg and Vomit, see,
And excrements out fling?
We’ve griev’d them by such Physick that they shed
Their Excrements upon our lofty heads.
Edward Taylor, 1683
From “Norman and the Killer”
The next evening he drove out to the country again. Signs, barns, houses, side roads had become familiar. On the floor of the back seat were a small bag of groceries and two blankets and an old kerosene lamp he had found in the attic. It was nearly ten o’clock when he approached the garage. His heart was thudding dangerously, yet it did not upset him. He knew his body would not fail him, he could drive it as he drove the car. It was when he did not make himself think of the killer, when, out of disgust or fear, he tried to think of other things, that he felt the overwhelming guilt that had become for him the most extraordinary emotion he had ever felt. Now, prepared, everything ready and planned, he felt no guilt at all. With his car headlights off, he parked down the road from the garage, watching. Bushes screened him partly. There was his man—dragging a carton of empty soda pop bottles inside the garage. Norman waited. He had never before felt quite so free: the immensity of freedom to act and to act entirely without consequence. He wondered if that man and the two boys with him had experienced this same sweet suffocating freedom that afternoon sixteen years ago. . . . The garage darkened. Norman had no trouble making out the killer, who was taller than the other man and walked with heavy plodding steps as if he were overcome by the heat or by exhaustion. There was something self-righteous in that walk, Norman saw. The men went to their cars, the car doors slammed shut almost simultaneously, the other man drove off. The killer paused to light a cigarette. He tossed the match onto the gravel and Norman’s lips jerked into a grin of recognition.
- Publishers Weekly, February 28, 1966, p. 90
- Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1966, p. 265
- Library Journal, April 1, 1966, p. 1926
- New York Times Book Review, June 12, 1966, pp. 4-5
- Saturday Review, August 6, 1966, pp. 32-33
- Listener, March 1, 1973, p. 284
- Times Literary Supplement, March 9, 1973, p. 257
- Observer, March 18, 1973, p. 37
- New Statesman, March 30, 1973, p. 470
- Books and Bookmen, May 1973, p. 107
- Spectator, May 19, 1973, p. 623