By Joyce Carol Oates
THE GODDESS And Other Women is the fifth collection of short stories by prize-winning author, Joyce Carol Oates. It was with the short story that Miss Oates’s meteoric career was launched, and in this volume she uses again her scalpel-like talent to penetrate the mind and heart.
The twenty-five stories in THE GODDESS concern women; women and girls of all ages living the crises of their daily lives—a young girl who finds herself playing the role of The Girl on a California beach; another, wanting love so desperately she will do anything to secure it; a child caught up in a game of “blindfold” with the adults around her; a young woman who drifts toward suicide and is saved by the oddest of circumstances.
All these, and many more, are in some way reflections of the ideals and images men have created about women both as individuals and as personae. They are women who portray a sense of their struggle in today’s America, who try to define their individual identities and attempt to overcome the duality into which they are thrust. They are women who, in trying to transcend the limits of sex, find that man’s dream-image will forever torment the flesh.
- The Girl
- Concerning the Case of Bobby T.
- The Daughter
- In the Warehouse
- The Maniac
- . . . & Answers
- I Must Have You
- Magna Mater
- Small Avalanches
- The Voyage to Rosewood
- The Dying Child
- A Girl at the Edge of the Ocean
- Unpublished Fragments
- A Premature Autobiography
- Psychiatric Services
- The Goddess
- The Wheel
From “Small Avalanches”
I noticed a big rock highter up, and I went around behind it and pushed it loose—it rolled right down toward him and he had to scramble to get out of the way. “Hey! Jesus!” he yelled. The rock came loose with some other things and a mud chunk got him in the leg.
I laughed so hard my stomach started to ache.
He laughed too, but a little different from before.
“This is a little trial for me, isn’t it?” he said. “A little preliminary contest. Is that how the game goes? Is that your game, Nancy?”
I ran highter up the hill, off to the side where it was steeper. Little rocks and things came loose and rolled back down. My breath was coming so fast it made me wonder if something was wrong. Down behind me the man was following, stooped over, looking at me, and his hand moving up and down because he was breathing so hard. I could even see his tongue moving around the edge of his dried-out lips. . . . I started to get afraid, and then the tingling came back into me, beginning in my tongue and going out through my whole body, and I couldn’t help giggling.
He said something like, “—won’t be laughing—” but I couldn’t hear the rest of it. My hair was all wet in back where it would be a job for me to unsnarl it with the hairbrush. The man came closer, stumbling, and just for a joke I kicked out at him, to scare him—and he jerked backward and tried to grab onto a branch of a bush, but it slipped through his fingers and he lost his balance and fell. He grunted. He fell so hard that he just lay there for a minute. I wanted to say I was sorry, or ask him if he was all right, but I just stood there grinning.
He got up again; the fleshy part of his hand was bleeding, But he didn’t seem to notice it and I turned and ran up the rest of the hill, going almost straight up the last part, my legs were so strong and felt so good. Right at the top I paused, just balanced there, and a gust of wind would have pushed me over—but I was all right. I laughed aloud, my legs felt so springy and strong.
Things naturall to the Species
are not always so for the individuall.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
- Magill’s Literary Annual
Bruce Allen, Library Journal, February 1, 1975, p311
Irrational violence and defensive “madness” still dominate narrative patterns. But this book displays new organizing skills. Oates no longer lumbers toward the decisive plot-locking of the well-made story; the mysterious demons which grip her characters are allowed to hang on, unexorcised. Her style has sharpened: the images are always functional; the repetitions amplify meanings. This is a terrible and exciting book from a writer who must now, I’m convinced, be judged our very best.
Marian Engel, New York Times Book Review, November 24, 1974, p7, 10
Year after year Oates has been extending her range, geting closer to the heart of her fictional women’s derangement. In order to do so, she has played almost outrageously with forms and conventions. Her style is transparently ordinary, her characters’ lives are usually banal, she refuses to glamorize, and she makes reality work for her by selecting details other American writers reject as tedious and unromantic. She overemphasizes to make points, but does not dramatize. Without traditionally “fine” writing—her field is fine perception—she uncovers the underside of a Puritanism that forgot to tell us what to do with Kali. One or two of these stories are as good as James’s and Conrad’s. None of them is conventional or commercial, the 25 of them add up to a magnificent achievement.
David Lodge, Times Literary Supplement, April 4, 1975, p353
Most of the stories make considerable play with various kinds of narrative distortion and displacement—deliberately blurring or omitting the connexions between different time-planes, between thought and speech, reality and fantasy. Here, in view of the very large claims made for Miss Oates’s literary achievement, I feel obliged to express certain doubts. Is all this calculated indirection really functional, I wonder, or is it quite often a way of concealing a story’s soft centre from scrutiny by keeping the reader short of information?
John Alfred Avant, New Republic, March 29, 1975, p30-31
… Oates at her worst. Of the 25 stories, three are acceptable. . . . The charge is often made that Oates writes too quickly and too much; but the same working habits that produced The Goddess also produced her last two big collections, which contain, along with some tripe, some of the best stories in the language. Oates can’t work in any other way. We have to take the mediocre with the good, the bad with the great.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1974, p1076
Publishers Weekly October 7, 1974, p54
National Observer, November 16, 1974, p27
Best Sellers, February 1, 1975, p483
Psychology Today, March 1975, p96
Booklist, March 15, 1975, p725
Observer, April 6,1975, p30
Commonweal, April 11, 1975, p55, 57-58
New Statesman, April 11, 1975, p488
Guardian Weekly, April 12, 1975, p21
Listener, May 22, 1975, p685-686
Books and Bookmen, January 1976, p56-57
Image: The Hindu Goddess Kali