By Joyce Carol Oates
In a publishing world where authors generally slot into genres and sub-genres and pretty much remain there for their entire writing careers, Joyce Carol Oates is a renegade. She’s an author who allows an idea, the thread of a storyline, a vague character outline, a headline, just about anything, to spark her imagination and pen to life. These can roll of the press as literary novels, gothic romances, historical novels, murder mysteries, or even lurid excursions into darkness (most recently like Jack of Spades). It’s said of authors that they just have got to write. However true that might be of others, it’s certainly true of JCO; writing for her seems a compulsion, wherein a day isn’t complete without at least a few thousands words on a legal pad. Thus you have an author who produces them and Wonderland, Bellefleur and My Heart Laid Bare, Zombie and Daddy Love, Blonde and The Accursed, Foxfire and this 1997 novel Man Crazy. You really have to admire, perhaps even envy both her versatility and her prolificacy, particularly in the light of the variety.
She can be a bit challenging for readers who wish to peg her as something. For example, you read her gothic novels and look for more of the same and find yourself disappointed when you encounter something completely different. Which is simply to say, with JCO, the way to enjoy her best is to give yourself over to variety and skillful writing and not expect exactly the same thing next time; or familiarize yourself with her novels and stick with those more in keeping with what you like to read. With her, you’ll surely find something.
So, here you have from 1997 Man Crazy, a tale of how a teen, Ingrid Boone, makes all the wrong choices in pursuit of her need to be loved, choices that lead her into a murderous satanic motorcycle cult (it doesn’t get much more lurid than this!) that almost takes her life but in a complete reversal, instead, proves redemptive, bringing her what she wants in her early twenties. Not at all like what preceded it, her highly regarded We Were the Mulvaneys, and what followed, another entry in her Gothic Saga. Man Crazy dovetails with Foxfire, and more the precipitating early years covered in Mudwoman. It’s often pulpy and vulgar, verging often on insanity conveyed in a tumult of very loud words.
Even among the pulp, as always with her, you’ll find some keen observations of human life, things in the back of your mind that you just can’t articulate, but which she can, as through Ingrid near the end of her dangerous search for love: “For what I can remember is but a fraction of what was, as all that is is but a fraction of what was.”
Which is to say, even what may seen the lesser Oates is usually more than what most authors offer you. w/c