Where I Lived, And What I Lived For by Joyce Carol Oates, 1970
The magic trick:
Creating a vibe of panicked isolation through a fever dream stream-of-conscience writer’s voice
We close our week of JCO reimagined tales with the one that works the least by my count. It’s also the one where I’m least familiar with the source material – from Henry David Thoreau – so perhaps that’s why I’m not getting this.
In this one, our narrator is not staying in the woods but instead is isolated in some kind of fever dream. Oates does this sometimes. Her writing just explodes into a bizarre stream-of-conscience vibe. It can be exhilarating. It can be exhausting. In this case, it’s probably both. Without question, it’s effective at creating a feeling of panicked isolation.
And that’s quite a trick on Oates’s part.
My body wsa a cage, my ribs a cage, and inside, my heart was pounding to be let out! To get free! The rain had passed and it had not renewed me. The pores of our human skin, coated over with a film of grease, do not take in moisture; we are impenetrable.
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