Sam Coale, Professor of English at Wheaton College, reviews The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates in The Providence Journal. “In this dazzling, forthright and revealing record of her life from ages 34 to 44, … Oates feels herself existentially marooned between the polarities of work and life, public image and private reality, obsession and community, the self in all its guises and the self as some elusive, smoldering center.” Unlike some reviewers who seem bitterly disappointed that the Journal isn’t a literary TMZ, Coale appreciatively notes that “[editor Greg] Johnson has masterfully excised gossip and focused on Oates as a writer.”
Coale’s more in-depth writings on JCO include “Psychic Visions and Quantum Physics: Oates’s Big Bang and the Limits of Language” (which JCO found “brilliant” and “fascinating”), published last year in a special issue of Studies in the Novel devoted to JCO’s works; and a chapter of his 1985 book In Hawthorne’s Shadow: American Romance from Melville to Mailer focusing on an early JCO masterpiece, Bellefleur, and reprinted in the Modern Critical Views series edited by Harold Bloom.
Jennifer Reese, a director of the National Book Critics Circle, and a critic for Entertainment Weekly, has chosen the 10 Best Fiction Books of 2007, including Joyce Carol Oates’s The Gravedigger’s Daughter at number 7. Reese interviewed JCO earlier this summer about the novel, her grandmother, and her productivity; the interview includes comments from JCO’s editor, Daniel Halpern, and novelist Edmund White.
Michael Dirda, a Washington Post book critic, reviews several Joyce Carol Oates works in the New York Review of Books, including The Gravedigger’s Daughter (“Though one may argue about aspects of the book, there can be no question of its power and conviction. The same can be said about most of Oates’s major novels …. Oates is never merely a realist; she’s also an artist of the sublime, conveying both awe and grandeur.”); The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates: 1973-1982, edited by Greg Johnson (“this is largely a journal of the interior life, one that emphasizes the author’s more theoretical and philosophical views about the nature of art, while also describing her creative routine and recording her progress on the current book”); and The Museum of Dr. Moses: Tales of Mystery and Suspense (“Joyce Carol Oates is as much a ‘genre author’ as she is a major American novelist. One might even say that she has come to look upon all literature as the genre she works in so inventively, adapting classic themes, paying homage to old masters, writing in various styles and forms—while somehow remaining true to her own intense imagination.”). Dirda addresses the chief complaint some reviewers have with JCO (productivity), and makes a minor error referring to the novel A Bloodsmoor Romance as “A Bloodsworth Romance,” one of its early working titles as mentioned in the Journal. [note: this has since been corrected by the editors] Dirda seems to be, overall, a JCO admirer, writing in 1997 in the Washington Post about the last quarter-century of American fiction, “Oates’s novels are so various—from the gothicky Bellefleur to the grim Because It is Bitter and Because It is My Heart to the suave psychological thrillers written as Rosamond Smith—that one can only shake one’s head in astonishment.”
Joyce Carol Oates reviews Bernard Malamud: A Writer’s Life by Philip Davis in the Times Literary Supplement. JCO offers a brief overview of Malamud’s work, and judges Davis with appreciation: “Most biographies trudge along the surface of a life, amassing and presenting facts, like rubble on a shovel, in which a very few precious gems might be visible; this pioneering biography of Malamud presents gem-like aphorisms … and insights and observations of the biographer’s, on virtually every page.”
In 1973 JCO reviewed Malamud’s story collection Rembrandt’s Hat in the Washington Post.
In The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates, she writes, “Bernard Malamud is a complex, intelligent (highly intelligent!), soft-spoken and well-spoken man; a gentleman; called me ‘my dear’ several times …. Spoke of his writing (The Fixer was intended to be a sort of folktale, not a ‘historical’ novel) and his writing habits (he works from nine until one most days … and reviews/reviewers (a subject on which he elaborated at dinner … like all writers I’ve met he seems to dislike reviewers in general and certain reviewers—Roger Sale—in particular; he was quite passionate on the subject) ….”