Eric K. Anderson reviews The Man Without a Shadow in the latest volume of Bearing Witness: Joyce Carol Oates Studies.
“One of Oates’s great skills as a writer is to firmly place readers within the consciousness of her characters so we are able to fully imagine the world from their perspective. Italicised lines mark running subliminal thoughts. Descriptions of the landscape reflect the emotional temperament of the character viewing it. It’s particularly striking when Oates finds an appropriate style of writing to simulate the logic of a consciousness so foreign to the majority of people’s standard way of thinking and reasoning. This is exemplified in novels such as Zombie (1995) told from the perspective of a mass murderer who thinks in images and symbols or the later parts of Blonde (2000) when the narrative becomes fragmented and disjointed in accordance with Norma Jeane’s increasing distress. There are sections of The Man Without a Shadow in which the narrative enters fully into Elihu’s perspective and his system of coping with unfamiliar reality. He frequently hides his confusion and frustration by simulating understanding for the sake of social convention. When entering the research center he attempts to associate where he’s supposed to go with the color of floor numbers. He frequently experiences a déjà-vu effect of intuitively knowing where to go, but not knowing why he knows or where he’s going. By drawing readers so adeptly into Elihu’s thought process, Oates creates a sympathetic understanding for his position and why he acts the way he does. This makes the concluding sections of the novel all the more poignant.”
Image: “Forgotten!!” by Damian