Some people are addicted to caramel macchiato with whipped cream. Some are addicted to reality television. One of my favorite addictions is authoress Joyce Carol Oates. The woman is as prolific as you can get, producing fiction at a faster rate than any other (good) author that I can think of, and it pretty much never disappoints. Some of it is horrific; some of it is hilarious. Much of it is in between, and I suppose that’s why I love her so much. The woman can tell a story.
In the latest collection of works by Oates that I have read, Give Me Your Heart, the reader is treated to a wide variety of heart-stopping and heart-giving tales. The titular short story is a letter from a woman to an old lover who could have ruined her life, and she feels that it’s time he pay up and give her his ticker. A common theme of the author’s, that of a young girl in trouble (often at the hands of men), is prevalent in several of the stories, including an impressive one about a teen surrounded by lustful men in their twenties who must devise a way out by her wits. A real sense of place can be found in a couple of these tales, particularly one about a very dangerous river area and a young woman desperate to find safety in her life.
Perhaps the most moving story for me was the final one in the collection, which was about a soldier returned home from the war in the Middle East badly damaged both physically and mentally. It’s a story we’ve all heard and we can all envision, yet it never fails to make us weep and wonder what we are doing to our men and women. Dubbing them heroes really just isn’t enough, and in some cases, it’s like a slap in the face to them after they suffer the worst punishment a person ever could.
My only complaint with this collection is that some of the stories did seem a little verbose, as if Oates needed to fulfill more details than the reader perhaps needed to know. She lost me in a couple and I had to return later to finish them. They were still quite enjoyable, but with so many of these seemingly unnecessary details I do wonder if there is a personal application to any of these stories in her life. I think most authors have at least tiny bit of themselves in their work, after all.
I would heartily recommend Give Me Your Heart at the top of anyone’s summer reading list. It’s fast to read through for the most part, with perhaps the most payoff you’ll get out of fiction. Satisfaction is definitely what keeps me coming back to Oates every single time.