The Lost Landscape by Joyce Carol Oates
eBook review copy, 368 pages
"What is vivid in memory is the singular, striking, one-of-a-kind event
or episode, encapsulated as if in amber.... not routine but what
Which is why the effort of writing a memoir is so fraught with peril,
and even its small successes ringed by melancholy. The fact is - We have
forgotten most of our lives. All of our landscapes are soon lost in time."
The Lost Landscape by Joyce Carol Oates is a very highly
recommended collection of 28 pieces about her childhood, to adulthood
and shares some of the incidents that have shaped her as a writer. Many
of these stories have appeared in other publications and have been
revised for this collection of the landscapes that have shaped her
career as a writer. They are little vignettes of time caught in amber
rather than a complete story of her life.
Oates grew up in
an impoverished area of rural western New York State on her family's
farm. Young Joyce had a special red hen, Happy Chicken, who was her
beloved pet. She went to the same one room school house her mother did
as a child and went on to attend high school in Buffalo. She was then a
scholarship girl at Syracuse University and went on to get her masters
at the University of Wisconsin. She shares her bouts with insomnia,
first experiences with death, a friend's suicide, another's sexual
abuse, as well as some of the stories that inspired her to write several
of her novels. She has a moving piece about her autistic sister.
There were several things she described in these stories that brought
vivid memories of my life to the forefront. I remember my grandparent's
breakable, fragile Christmas ornaments that also included strings of
bubble lights that fascinated all of us grandchildren. On her
step-grandparents farm there is a pear orchard that she describes: "On
the trees, the pears were greeny-hard as rocks for weeks as if
reluctant to ripen; then, overnight, the pears were “ripe” - very soon
“over-ripe” - fallen to the ground, buzzing with flies and bees." I
remember a house we lived in when I was young, before attending school,
that had a backyard filled with pear trees. Her descriptions vividly
brought to mind the danger those pears represented, when they were over
ripe, on the ground, and all sorts of wasps and bees and insects were
swarming the area.
Obviously these pieces are extraordinarily well written, with details
lovingly, gently, carefully describing specific events and memories. She
shares some hurtful events too, although carefully modulated by time.
Her parents are lovingly and warmly described creating a tribute to
their memory. This is an excellent collection of pieces for a memoir.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy
of HarperCollins for review