Judith Ann Moriarty

Joyce Carol Oates’ new novel, “Mudwoman”

By - May 1st, 2012 08:54 pm
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Joyce Carol Oates. Sarahana photo via Wikipedia Commons.

mudwoman-oates-coverYearly, for the past thirty, I anticipate the arrival of Joyce Carol Oates’ newest. I’ve rarely been disappointed. Her latest novel, Mudwoman (ecco/2012), has taken its place with works by other valued American authors: John Updike, John Irving, and T.C. Boyle. Such authors thoughtfully mirror our convulsive culture, and in doing so prod us to consider the dark side.

Oates sharpened her literary claws at UW-Madison, earning her Masters in English Literature (1961). Then an all-male panel of professors told her that she wasn’t a candidate for their doctoral program. She’s been out for blood ever since. Hard work, discipline and brilliance led her to Princeton, where she’s now a full professor of Humanities. Her life experiences and a full range of work in various genres are her tools, though her reach is far beyond rote teaching. It’s teaching by doing.

Of all her diverse genres, I’m most attracted to those novels that, like Mudwoman, incorporate her intrigue with fairy tales. She weaves them so cleverly with fact that it’s thrillingly difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when I tumble down the rabbit hole or enter the swampland where mud threatens to suck me under. It seems to be a novel about a pioneering female president of an Ivy League university cracking under pressure. This academic got off to a rough start in life: A mentally unbalanced mother dropped her infant daughter into the muddy shore of a river and left her to die.

But the mud of which Oates writes is more than literal. The same muck smothers the rights of women, the impoverished, the abused, and others cast aside and left to die, small and alone and silent. She lashes both Republicans and Democrats, war in any form, and challenges institutionalized religions and those academic venues that espouse social concerns while taking huge donations from corporations that trash the environment. Now approaching her mid-seventies, she can damn well let it rip. But frankly, she’s been letting it rip for years.

A voice in the wilderness I yearn to hear, Mudwoman will not be silenced. Listen and learn.

0 thoughts on “Joyce Carol Oates’ new novel, “Mudwoman””

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been a fan of Joyce Carol Oates since her book of short stories, Upon The Sweeping Flood, from the 70s. (She’s also a very good person, once offering me help with a book agent.) Her book Widow is supposed to be good also (haven’t read it yet), about what happened to her after her husband of so many years died. Thanks for the great review, Judith!

  2. Anonymous says:

    ah, hah..she remarried a chap named Charles (Mudwoman is dedicated to him) who is a neuropsychiatrist. I noticed references to neuropsychiatry sprinkled throughout the pages. Hopefully, he won’t prescribe drugs to straighten out her brilliant mind. Her former husband’s parents lived in ‘Tosa.

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