Fiction & Biography .



(Fourth Estate $310.99) «0..

‘Who or what is Stevie Smith?’ pondered Ogden Nash of the unassuming mid-20th century English poet: ‘ls she woman or is she myth?’ Had he been a fan of American literature, Nash might have been similarly intrigued by the genre-defying career of Joyce Carol Oates. The First Lady of US letters has seen the lyrical inventiveness and pinpoint accuracy of her writing likened to ‘witchcraft’ by no less a personage than Jeanne Moreau.

Oates describes the creative process as being like a series of ‘obsessions’, and is hugely prolific as a novelist, short story writer, playwright, poet and children’s author, yet her work endlessly resists classification. This, after all, is the woman who followed up Zombie a horrific insight into the mind of a serial killer with a sweeping family saga We were the Mulvaneys, later winning yet more admirers with her vast, ambitious fictionalised account of the life of Marilyn Monroe in Blonde.

Once again schizophrenically switching gear, Oates’ new novel intimately charts one lonely outsider’s coming of age during America’s tumultuous 60$. Hailing from a loveless upbringing in a poor farming family from upstate New York, our academically gifted heroine strikes out for Syracuse University, armed with the

conviction that the spirit of her long-dead mother is accompanying her, as well as her brother’s (sarcastically intended) parting shot: ‘You can do anything.’

At the heart of the novel is this character’s quest for belonging, which initially finds expression in her induction into the tawdry glamour of second-rate sorority house Kappa Gamma Pi. The seedy world within the Kappa Mansion, which is populated by pancaked and D-cupped clones, famed on campus for ‘putting out’, is rendered by Oates in grotesquely vivid detail, and proves no place for a straight-A scholarship girl who suspects she may be of Jewish extraction. She becomes so uncertain of her own identity that she responds to the ‘Elises’ or ‘Alicias’ that Kappa’s dithering matriarch Mrs Thayer invents for her,


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The car’s the star in Autopia

They say that cars have ruined our envrronrnent and the world has become less safe as more of the tin killing machines have clogged up our

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highways. Well, in the last month I've seen more pedestrians at risk from cycling lunacy than anything produced by a motorist. Anyway. Auto/Ma's essays and irnages create a land that merges the highly analytical and the aesthetically thought provoking. leavrng one thing for sure: you can both ditch the motoring stereotypes and bow down to the cliche of 'the car'.

i or every reference to Halirit's ocnobhiles and philobats. there's a Hie/ma and I orrrse still or a l lobbei‘ gas station. And when you get bogged down by the talk of automobile rnetenir)sychoses in Romania, you can lll(ll\ to stunning images of Havana's gaudy streetlife or vehicles bla/irig upside down alter race riots ii: Soweto oi l)etioit.

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witchcraft from literature’s First Lady

eventually referring to herself by her own invented nickname, ‘Anellia’.

Yet, even as we follow ‘Anellia’s’ mental and physical deterioration with growing concern, the tenacious girl unexpectedly dredges up her last remnants of determination to drag herself from the fascist sorority straight into a destructive obsession with a magnetic black student, and from there to a westward odyssey and the possibility of love and peace of mind.

Throughout, Oates’ prose is sumptuous, sensual and brilliantly evocative, while her protagonist’s predicaments are rendered with understated wit; but it’s the sympathy and unflinching insight she extends to her embattled central character that makes I’ll Take You There yet another triumph. (Allan Radcliffe)

What this inighty tonie does is tell us why, when and how the car became so hotly fetishised in \.'/estern culture and beyond. and while the essays occasionally get a bit clunky. they are ll£l[)l)|l\,’ free of the technical babble which your kindly inechanic will throw at you when you ask for the simplest of repair iobs.

lhoiigh whether a Kwrk l rt fitter would be able to regale you Wllll tales of why the l rench were so resistant to the notion of roundabouts or state why you should be aimed wrth enough cash for the motoring fines you'll inevitably receive on Ukrainian roads is doubtful. Auto/Ha is entertaining. lavish, educational and often (lllllt? funny. l ven the l ada |()l\(?f;.

(Brian Donaldson)

Shelf life

Classic novels revisited. This issue: The World According to Garp

Published 2:3 years ago. What’s the story John IrVing's convoluted classic is the life story of Garp. novelist and bastard son of celebrated radical feminist Jenny Fields. Though a "natural storyteller' who thrills and horrifieS his yOLing children With cautionary tales. Garp's fiction is endlessly overshadowed by nis mother's career and profile. The novel is an IrVing—eSQLie brew of high comedy. abrupt catastrOphe and sentimentality. whose array of bizarrely believable characters include Roberta. a transsexual former American football hero. and the ‘Ellen Jartiesian'. feminist Cult. whose members have their tongues removed in honour of a well-known rape victim. Key moment With their marriage floundering. Garp's wrle seduces a young student and is orally bleaSuring him in the driveway little realismg that Garp is hot on her adulterous heels. amusing the children With a :areless trick that involves swnching the car into neutral and ‘flying' up the drive. The consequences include one dead child. a lost eye and an unceremonious castration.

Postcript As a flat-footed. dyslexrc teen, Irvrng was inspired by his high-school wrestling coach who told hint: "latent is overrated. that you're not very talented needn't be the end of it.' trying defiantly went on to become a best—selling author and accomplished \.--.riest|ing coach.

First line test 'Garb's mother. .Jenny l ieids. was arrested in Boston in

19-19 for wounding a man in a vnovie theater."

iAllai‘. Radcliffei