Likely Stories : The (Other) You, by Joyce Carol Oates

May 27, 2021

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Joyce Carol Oates is an incredibly prolific author.  She has published countless stories, novels, poetry, non-fiction, and more than forty short pieces, among which is her latest work, The (Other) You. 

  

 

Her latest collection has several I found to be wonderful.  I begin with title story, “The (Other) You.” She wrote, “Bought a bookstore.  Mostly secondhand books. // Never left your hometown on the Erie Barge Canal, upstate New York. // Never wanted to leave because why?—you have family here, relatives.  High school friends.  Found a house just three blocks from the house you’d grown up in. // Fact is you failed to get the scholarship you’d need to escape. // So, after you graduated from the local community college you got married.  First man you believed you loved, and certainly the first who claimed to love you.  And you and your husband bought South Main Books where you’d spent so many enthralled hours as a schoolgirl. // By the time the elderly proprietor died the stock had become primarily secondhand.  Waterlogged, stained.  Fire-scorched.  Heaps of books assembled onto metal bookcases with hand-printed labels” (3).  As a collector of books set in bookstores, I was hooked!  Joyce continues, “Yes, there was a romance in such a place.  A universe of books.  A universe of souls.  Except unlike souls, books endured.  You could hold a book hand in your hand, as you could not hold a soul in your hand.  You could turn the pages of a book—you could read” (4).  Two items about this particular story: I do not like stories told in the second person; but I made an allowance in this case, and I am glad that I did.

The next, “The Crack”, is an earie story about a young girl who fears stepping on a crack in the sidewalk.  A friend convinces her that she should step on cracks.  She falls and breaks her ankle.  She is an agony, but she cannot find anyone to help her, including her mother.  This odd story has a peculiar ending.  Another example of Oates’s astonishing power as a writer.

Another interesting story is “The Blue Guide.”  A renowned professor—only named once as Leonard—returns for a visit to Italy after forty years.  He is the author of a widely admired book, The Blue Guide.  To his chagrin, the city is crumbling and most of the treasured memories were closed.  

Lastly, is the weirdest of them all in this collection “Waiting for Kizer.  Joyce writes, “Waiting for his friend Kizer on the outdoor terrace at the Purple Onion Café, Smith is beginning to be concerned. // They are to meet for lunch at 1:00 p.m. on this day, Friday, June 9, Smith is certain.  But already it is 1:26 p.m.” (55). […] Time passes and another man arrives. who also asks for Kizer.  […] Smith speaks, “‘You know my friends name?’—Smith is taken aback for (he is sure) he hadn’t (yet) given it. […] “Excuse me?  Were you talking about ‘Nate Kizer’?  I couldn’t help but overhear’” // “‘Y-yes. ‘Nate Kizer.’ We’re having lunch together, today.  Nate and me.” (62-63).  As it turns out both men are naned Smith, both know Kizer, both married the same woman, in addition to quite a few other coincidences. 

The (Other) You by Joyce carol Oates is another example of her amazing and interesting and somewhat comic stories from this extremely talented writer.  5 Stars!

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!