Joyce Carol Oates and Her Happy Chicken

The Lost Landscape: A Writer's Coming of AgeThe Lost Landscape: A Writer’s Coming of Age by Joyce Carol Oates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not a big fan of her fiction, but I teach and write memoir, so I picked this one up and am I glad I did! Though when I got to the chapter written by her pet chicken, I rolled my eyes. She is such a good writer that I couldn’t stop reading what the chicken said!

Some of her childhood and adolescent memories foreshadow what she will write about in her novels: incest, murder, child abuse. The lost landscape of her youth (and mine) is poignantly portrayed – rural western New York State, the 1960s. Discovered that she taught at Detroit when my husband was a student there (he doesn’t remember her but he does remember the 1967 riots she describes) and that the radial Weathermen’s bomb blew up a townhouse in New York a few blocks from where she was doing a photo shoot for Vogue. Evocative of her era (and mine) as a young woman, and a loving homage to her parents, this memoir is a wonderful selection from a famous writer’s “life and times.”

I was interested that she doesn’t believe a memoir should have a narrative structure, because our lives are not lived that way, yet she acknowledges that memoir is selective, like picking “up a handful of very hot stones.” One “has to drop some, in order to keep hold of others.”

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