Book Review

I Am No One You Know: Stories—Joyce Carol Oates

woman in dress standing in hallway with door at the end, I am no one you know stories, Joyce Carol Oates

Back cover text: I Am No One You Know contains nineteen startling stories that bear witness to the remarkably varied lives of Americans of our time. In “Fire,” a troubled young wife discovers a rare, radiant happiness in an adulterous relationship. In “Curly Red,” a girl makes a decision to reveal a family secret, and changes her life irrevocably. In “The Girl with the Blackened Eye,” selected for The Best American Mystery Stories 2001, a girl pushed to an even greater extreme of courage and desperation manages to survive her abduction by a serial killer. And in “Three Girls,” two adventuresome NYU undergrads seal their secret love by following, and protecting, Marilyn Monroe in disguise in Strand Used Books on a snowy evening in 1956.

These vividly rendered portraits of women, men, and children testify to Oates’s compassion for the mysterious and luminous resources of the human spirit.

I’m a terrible feminist. There. I said it. I’ve never read Joyce Carol Oates before. I only knew that I should have read Joyce Carol Oates before. I didn’t know why (and I am notorious for my dislike of short stories), but this book was a gift from the same aunt who gave me A Curtain of Green and Uppity Women, so that was a sign I needed to read it. When my Chubs Mug of Literary Fortitude gifted it to me, I looked at the list of short stories it contained, sighed, and started reading.

And suddenly immediately understood why I should have read Oates before.

Her style is sharp and sparse, but that makes her detail all the more important and intimate. She writes men and women, adults and children with the same skill and even the stories I didn’t particularly love, I liked. Some of the characters are awful. Most aren’t great people. But they all come across as real people—the ones you’d see on the streets in your hometown. Some of them you’d ignore or try to ignore, and some of them you’d stop and say hi to. But they all read as real people.

I have nothing to compare this to, Oates-wise, but I am in awe of her style and her skill, but (and a quick Google confirms this, and confirms the presence of articles that have put far more research and thought into it than my quick blog written in a Caribou Coffee in Northern Minnesota, not that Minnesota or the Caribou have anything to do with the quality of my thought processes—it just happens to be where I am) for someone who has labeled herself as a feminist, many of her female characters are… passive. There’s a place for passivity in feminism, but there’s also a place for women who step up and tell men to shut up. There’s not a lot of that in here.

Stories Included:

  • Curly Red
  • In Hiding
  • I’m Not Your Son, I Am No One You Know
  • Aiding and Abeting
  • Fugitive
  • Me & Wolfie, 1979
  • The Girl with the Blackened Eye
  • Cumberland Breakdown
  • Upholstery
  • Wolf’s Head Lake
  • Happiness
  • Fire
  • The Instructor
  • The Skull: A Love Story
  • The Deaths: An Elegy
  • Jorie (& Jamie): A Deposition
  • Mrs. Halifax and Rickie Swann: A Ballad
  • Three Girls
  • The Mutants

I Am No One You Know HUD

  • I Am No One You Know: Stories
  • Author: Joyce Carol Oates
  • First Edition: 2004
  • Publisher: Ecco
  • First Reading
  • Date Started: 5/20/17
  • Date Finished: 6/5/17
  • Rating: 4/5

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