Seven Allusive Comedies
by Joyce Carol Oates
- Democracy in America
- Pilgrims’ Progress
- Up From Slavery
- A Descriptive Catalogue
- The Birth of Tragedy
- Rewards of Fame
“A preta (ghost) is one who, in the ancient Buddhist cosmology, haunts the earth’s surface, continually driven by hunger—that is, desire of one kind or another.”
Satire is a sort of Glass, wherein Beholders do generally
discover everybody’s Face but their own…
Jonathan Swift, The Battle of the Books
. . Surely a man may speak truth with a smiling countenance.
Henry Fielding, Tom Jones
Though she was by no means old-fashioned, and really very “liberated” from her background and its narrow rules of conduct, still Bernadine had never exactly had a lover; somehow it had not happened. It had nearly happened with Herman, several times. But finally it had not happened. Once, in her early thirties, she had isolated the problem, tracing it to her characteristic meticulousness, her need to pre-arrange, pre-imagine, pre-structure everything. It seemed to her only civilized that one must proceed through a series of drafts, before plunging into reality. And so she had never managed to lose her virginity, though she had known Herman for eighteen years and, in a strange way, they were perhaps married . . . mutual acquaintances often seemed to assume they were married, though not living together for some reason. It was all very awkward, yet it made a kind of sense.
It was love of a physical type that seemed to her mysterious: not ugly or vulgar or even untidy, but simply impossible. At times she seriously doubted whether anyone really did such things. . . . Perhaps it was all pretense? Or a literary convention?
- Prize Stories: The O Henry Awards, 1972, 2nd Prize: “Saul Bird Says: Relate! Communicate! Liberate!” (published here as “Pilgrims’ Progress”)
John Alfred Avant, New Republic, August 31, 1974, p30-31
The Hungry Ghosts crackles with tension and wit, and its subjects—the foibles of academia and the literati—are tantalizing. . . . It’s good to know that Oates, who comes off so solemnly in interviews, can be funny; and the assuredness with which she controls the stories is gratifying.
Josephine Hendin, New York Times Book Review, September 1, 1974, p5
These stories are small situations of malice that so level every impulse toward escape, nobility, generosity or life that they exemplify the faults they claim to expose. What they invariably expose is Joyce Carol Oates’s raw spleen.
Booklist, September 1, 1974, p23
Library Journal, September 15, 1974, p2176
Choice, October 1974, p1139
Psychology Today, March 1975, p96
Image: Gaki Zoshi (Scroll of hungry ghosts). Heian Period, 12th century. Tokyo National Museum.