The One with the Cycle of Grief

Joyce Carol Oates, Missing Mom (2005)

Ahem, I was supposed to be gone for a few days for Christmas, but we had a car crash just when we were leaving, so we are home… and I have unexpected time to blog after all. Don’t worry, the kids are alright, the presents weren’t broken, Christmas wasn’t cancelled and I have only minor concussion (but no car any more!).

I have several unfinished posts and I don’t know where to start, but somehow Joyce Carol Oates’ book appeals to me especially after this traumatic event.

When you have already read some Joyce Carol Oates you expect something raw, unapologetic, subversive and probably some violence. You expect misfits and upstate New York and people who are a bit lost. To some degree I found all that in Missing Mom, but what I didn’t expect was a softness that some people will surely find melodramatic.

I read that she wrote this book after the death of her own mother, which makes this atypical tone understandable, but I also believe that Oates likes to be unexpected, and I can’t say I have been very surprised by the story, so it’s safe to say it’s probably not her best. The book is told by Nikki, the rebel daughter of a conventional housewife. Nikki is 31, she wears her hair purple, she dates married men, and finds her (widowed, retired, church-volunteering, bread-baking) mom rather boring. But when Nikki discovers her mother dead in her house in gruesome circumstances, she embarks upon a long period of grief.

Nikki starts out as self-absorbed and immature, and discovers that her mother was not as boring as she thought. That could be, well, boring, but it’s Joyce Carol Oates, and she has an eye for telling details, for finding meaning in tiny mundane details (baking bread, checking a calendar) and her scenes feel so true and so relatable. I guess everyone who has known grief will understand the book, although it might reopen certain personal wounds. So it’s not to put in everyone’s hands, but I certainly enjoyed it.

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3 thoughts on “The One with the Cycle of Grief

  1. I’m so glad you’re OK, although I know from experience that the shock can come back and floor you just when you’re not expecting it. So take good care of yourself over the next few weeks.

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