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Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart (Plume) Paperback – March 30, 1991


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Product Details

  • Series: Plume
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Plume (March 30, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452265819
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452265813
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #636,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Murder galvanizes an industrial town in upstate New York when a husky red-haired corpse is fished from a polluted river in 1956. With sure strokes, Oates ( American Appetites ) delineates the racial hatreds leading to the crime that then entangles black basketball hero Verlyn ("Jinx") Fairchild and blonde Iris Courtney. Their coming of age from the mid-'50s to the mid-'60s--in the shadow of the civil rights struggle and John F. Kennedy's assassination--their love and their unpremeditated complicity in the town's violence are brilliantly portrayed. Jinx, appealing in his "innocence and impotence," can't help himself or his brother, Sugar Baby, wrecked by drug dealing. Iris, alert, locked into icy detachment, watches Jinx suffer, while her own alcoholic mother and gambling father drift apart. Blotting out her problems, Iris sleepwalks into the household of the exotic Savages, art historians who prize her beauty. Oates is a master at realizing the social forces that twist the fates of her characters. BOMC dual main selection.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The ever-prolific Oates is on familiar ground in her newest novel, which treats the seedy side of a working-class city in upstate New York in the 1950s. Her heroine will be familiar to Oates fans, too: Iris Courtney is the only child of a broken home, gambling father, and alcoholic mother; she's waif-like, intelligent, and sensitive and carries with her the air of a victim. When a black classmate--handsome, academic, athletic Jinx Fairchild--murders mean "white trash" Little Red Garlock to protect Iris from Red's lewd advances, Iris carries the secret through her adolescence. The Courtney, Garlock, and Fairchild families are here used to explore racism at a time of awakening social consciousness, but Iris alone seems fully imagined. A large, significant work that will please Oates fans. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/89.
- Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., Va.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is the author of more than 70 books, including novels, short story collections, poetry volumes, plays, essays, and criticism, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys and Blonde. Among her many honors are the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction and the National Book Award. Oates is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.

Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 27, 1999
Format: Paperback
In her long, wildly prolific career, Oates has turned out multiple masterpieces (Them, Wonderland, Bellefleur, You Must Remember This, We Were the Mulvaneys) and even more near-masterpieces (What I Lived For, American Appetites, Expensive People, Zombie, Son of the Morning, Black Water, Broke Heart Blues) making it difficult for the beginner to know where to jump in. I'd suggest this novel, a flawlessly written, absorbingly complex study of troubled youth and race relations in a period of American history (the 1960's) that Oates can write about with as much authority as the most insightful sociologist. Eschewing pat conclusions and sentimentality, she renders a heartbreaking tale of innocence lost and expectations unfulfilled with an electric energy that carries the reader head-first down a narrative path that is as moving as it is difficult. The characters here are utterly real and their struggles to maintain some sense of identity in the face of massive social upheavel is depicted with uncommon sensitivity and grace. Oates is a master of the realist novel, and this is her finest in that vein and, indeed, in any vein. Shamefully neglected by awards committess and by the general reading public upon its release, Because it is Bitter will no doubt emerge as a classic of 20th century fiction, a work that probes, with unflinching honesty and unsurpassed skill, the depths of the human heart.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Cheney on December 19, 2000
Format: Paperback
This gripping, powerful novel is one of the best Joyce Carol Oates has written -- and that's saying a lot, since she has published about 30 novels, some of them as good as anything by an American in the last fifty years (and, to be honest, some of them as bad).
You can read the novel simply to become absorbed in the events and characters, or you can read it as a study of morality, of the implications of race and gender, of violence and American dreams. I've read it three times, and each time I have come away more impressed with Oates's achievement. This is a stunningly vivid work -- her command of English prose here is at a level reached with her earlier realistic novels, Wonderland and them. Give yourself over to the writing, and you will truly feel every page of this book.
A warning, though: It's not an uplifting story, despite an ostensibly happy ending. The characters suffer, and the world they inhabit is brutal and unforgiving. But the pain is not without meaning, and moments in this story reach heights of tragedy which few American writers have scaled.
Even if you've hated things you've by Joyce Carol Oates in the past, don't dismiss this novel. It will dig itself into your consciousness.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 26, 1999
Format: Paperback
People often say that a book was so good they couldn't put it down ... well this was so good I had to put it down, so I could absorb it and think about it and savour it. Oates delves so deeply into her characters it's almost painful. They are wonderfully human and believable. The story -- about how a murder binds together two teens, a poor white girl and a star black male athlete -- evokes working class America, in this case industrial upstate New York. Enjoyable and emotional.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Hugh Pearson on October 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
I haven't read every Joyce Carol Oates novel, only a few of the 30 odd ones she has written. Based on what I have read, and especially this book, I feel it is a crime that Oates has yet to win literature's higest honor.
I read this book several years back and recently returned to it as part of a personal study of different literary styles. "Because It Is Bitter" is one of my five favorite novels. Oates's skill at putting herself in the shoes of virtually every type of character imaginable is simply astonishing. After reading this book I couldn't believe that she has also inhabited the head of an African American male like me. And she surely understands all of the ramifications of this nation's racial sickness.
Kudos to Oates, from one author (of nonfiction) to another, for this extremely brave and deeply moving book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Dai-keag-ity on September 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
The time is the decade between the mid-1950's and the mid-1960's, and the place is Oates's familiar setting, her native upstate New York. In some ways this never loud but hard-hitting book continues many of the threads common in a multitude of Oates' previous works (a young girl, bookish, intelligent, much like Oates herself was as a teen, from a crumbling home where alcoholism and gambling are the wedge cracking the solidity of daily life; struggling poor family dealt unfair circumstances living in a dying blue collar town; social discord flaring to violence) and yet in many other ways, this is virgin territory for America's greatest living writer.

This novel concerns Iris Courtney, a pretty, white, intellectual girl whose future success or failure is basically in her own hands because she cannot count on assistance from either her drunken, once-beautiful mother, or her gullible gambling-addict father. Her one possible ally seems to be an uncle, an affable, secretly-tormented photographer estranged from Iris' father, Duke, secretly in love with Iris' mother, Persia. It also is the story of a black man of roughly Iris' age, named Verlyn Fairchild, who lives in the same town at the same time. On the surface these two would seem to have nothing in common and yet their lives intersect completely by chance one night when Verlyn risks his own life to rescue Iris from a brutal attempted rape at the hands of a thuggish, perhaps retarded teenage bully, feared son of a migratory clan of mountain people who have settled in the factory town.
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