Joyce Carol Oates’ new novel, “Mudwoman”
Yearly, 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.
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.