What a Crime It Is to Read Joyce Carol Oates

By the North GateWe have spent the last 120 days remodeling my library and because of that I sort of fell off the face of the Earth.  And missed Mystery Month on Book Group Buzz.  Now, there is some irony.

However, the emotionally draining workload of a remodel meant I also found it hard to concentrate on reading.  Especially a novel.

Instead I decided to dive into a collection of short stories.  My choice was the first book by Joyce Carol Oates, a collection called By the North Gate published in 1963.  My motivation for reading this was an interest in Oates not in crime fiction.

To my great surprise, most of these stories have a criminal element contained within them.  While each story has a strong narrative presence, the real meaning of the story is often obscured to the reader.  This is either going to be popular (with people like me) or readers are going to find these stories very obtuse.  What I liked about these stories is that they allow the reader to write their own story along with the author.   

To just look at the construction of the stories, each has a strong sense of place, well developed characters and plots that have both a sense of foreboding and futility.  I found the writing extraordinary and I believe that individually or as a collection, the stories contained in By the North Gate could become a book discussion success story. 

I may have also convinced myself that the idea that a short story will take less out of you than a novel may be entirely false.  It certainly was in the case of these gothic-like stories whose characters and their tribulations have stayed with me since I encountered them in the pages of By the North Gate.



About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

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