Revisiting Joyce Carol Oates’s Short Stories

In “Last Days,” a new collection of 11 stories, Miss Oates displays the uncanny ability to penetrate different states of consciousness, which has always been one of her trump cards as a writer.

In the past, Miss Oates has been our poet laureate of schizophrenia, of blasted childhoods, of random acts of violence. But in this volume there appears a new Joyce Carol Oates I like even better than the hallucinatory chronicler of madness and violence performed on and by children.

Six stories grouped together in this collection under the title “Our Wall” show Miss Oates dealing with the sort of material available to writers traveling around the world in their masks as celebrated personages.

In the last story, also called “Our Wall,” Miss Oates reaches beyond realism to create, in metaphorical terms, the philosophical underpinnings of all walls. History here transcends itself and becomes poetry: “Come closer, have no fear, long before you were born The Wall was, and forever will The Wall endure.”

I for one am happy to see her exploring the curious worlds of diplomacy, detente and literary vagabondage to which a much traveled, much translated writer is exposed.

As writers begin to travel around the world, communing with colleagues in other hemispheres, not only is the situation of the artist illuminated but the situation of the ordinary human being, whose representative the artist is. By traveling beyond our known borders we illuminate the problems of our own countries, our inner geographies, as well as that common landscape of hysteria that links the East with the West in the nuclear age.

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