Lionel Shriver: “Joyce Carol Oates is an atrocious writer.”
When you’re pilfering the mines of histrionic snark over Joyce Carol Oates (“to call the novel under-edited would be to imply that it had been edited at all,” “Oates gives the impression of publishing nothing but first drafts, which helps to explain her astounding output.”), chances are that you’re either someone frustrated because he can’t keep up with the JCO oeuvre (honestly, who outside of JCO’s husband has read every book?) or you’re another cretin pissing in the snow.
A far more thoughtful take on JCO can be found over at the Mumpsimus. And I think Matthew Cheney gets at the JCO conundrum (and the larger issue of prolificity and length) quicker than anyone: “Eventually, we will be able to look back over Oates’s entire career and find the gems, but for the moment we’re stuck with sorting through all the dreck. I, for one, have given up, because I don’t want to keep wasting my time hoping Oates will write a masterpiece.”
I’ve been formulating some theories about “sifting to find a masterpiece” and the thickass novel at large — specifically over whether the reader has the right to dismiss a book because of its length. One day when I have some time, I hope to dwell on the issue at length. The chief query: why does a novelist have to be punished for writing too much? If readers cannot keep up with a writer’s output, whether it entails the breadth of a novelist like Richard Powers or the relentless pen of JCO, then have they truly earned the right to impersonate some constant kvetcher who missed the nudie show by ten minutes?