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My Heart Laid Bare (Joyce Carol Oates Book) Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Series: William Abrahams Book
  • Hardcover: 420 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult; First Edition edition (June 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525944427
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525944423
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,480,075 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In this Joyce Carol Oates's novel, a New England confidence man teaches his children the tricks of his trade and sends them out into the world to relieve suckers of their money. The book traces the Licht family's fortunes through the first three decades of the 20th century, as the children come of age, master their talents, and grow away from their father's beliefs. Abraham Licht is a charming but sinister man who is extremely attached to the haunted swamp adjacent to the family home. He schools his children in the arts of assuming new identities and turning one's back on the past, skills which Oates suggests come quite easily to Americans. Licht advises his youngest son, a boy ill-suited to grift, to "assemble your selves with grace," by which he means, be duplicitous and excel at it! Do not bare your heart! However, Abraham's lessons don't stick--one by one, Papa Licht's children let him down. The youngest son becomes a talented musician and composer, while the younger sister devotes herself to a life of helping others as a nurse and suffragette. The other children stick to grift but distance themselves from their father, which breaks his devilish heart. My Heart Laid Bare is a tragic family epic. It is a complicated, ambitious book crammed with ideas, crisply drawn characters, and American history. As Oates unfurls the tragedy, she describes many of the social movements of the early 20th century and posits that this country was shaped by charming, talented liars like the Lichts. --Jill Marquis

From Publishers Weekly

Is there a rogue gene? Such is the intriguing premise of Oates's frisky and bitingly ironic 28th novel (after What I Lived For), in which a dynasty of confidence artists is launched by a convicted felon in 18th-century London. The scene then shifts to western New York in 1909, when the mysterious Dr. Washburn Frelicht is forced at gunpoint to surrender his racetrack winnings. Meanwhile, not far away, a penniless and pregnant young woman extorts money from her dead lover's family. Frelicht (aka Abraham Licht, consummate con man) knows the robber is Elisha, the black boy he adopted in infancy; the supposedly unfortunate young woman is Licht's daughter Millicent. Enter Licht's biological son Thurston, engaged to marry a wealthy widow, and his evil brother Harwood, who wants a piece of the action. Harwood murders the widow and flees, leaving his brother to answer for the crime. Banished to Colorado by his father, Harwood meets his mirror image in a wealthy heir from Philadelphia who yearns to reaffirm his manhood in the wilderness. Harwood obliges and the heir disappears, only to be reborn in the biggest scam of all. When Millicent falls for Elisha, Abe disowns the young man. Bitter and resentful, Elisha revolts against his white upbringing and becomes a radical. Gradually, the three mothers of Abe's assorted children abandon him, even as he bemoans the fact that his youngest son, a musical prodigy of gentle temperament, is ill-suited for the Game. Not surprisingly, this complex fabrication has its minor pitfalls: Abe has an infuriating habit of talking to himself, aliases fly faster than speeding bullets and the plot's many twists occasionally confuse. Still, it's impossible to resist the pull of Oates's lush narrative. Abraham Licht is unforgettable. As chief orchestrator of a family's misbehaviors, he becomes the quintessential silver fox, a rogue to remember.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 6, 1999
Format: Paperback
A book to be savored, this work struck a rare chord with me, the dilemma between not wanting it to end, yet being unable to put it down. Oates brings these characters to life. The language is lyrical and melodious, a savory delight of armchair escapism, yet so much more. I was engrossed in this book from the opening line and riveted to the very end. The ultimate dysfunctional family, run by a tyrannical and corrupt patriarch during the Gilded Age with just enough supernatural twists to make it the perfect candlelight read for snuggling under the covers while the wicked winds blow under ominous skies!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 27, 1998
Format: Hardcover
With "My Heart Laid Bare," Joyce Carol Oates builds on her reputation as one of the most inventive and alluring writers at work today. This time, she's in her historical mode, covering the nefarious doings of the Licht clan, whose elaborate con schemes stretch back to Colonial days when an ancestress was transported to America during a shady career that included similar activities. Lead by patriarch Abraham, the early 20th century Lichts appear be masters of the carefully-planned, high-stakes swindle when an act of violence begins the unraveling of not only the way of life they call The Game, but of the family itself. The disintegration of a family is a theme Oates has explored before ("We Were the Mullvaneys") but this new book is full of surprises. She draws the reader into an alluring tale, full of adventure, romance, and creative schemes, with the underpinnings of great sadness. The reader is left disturbed and unsure whether "My Heart Laid Bare" is a romp or something more serious trying to trick us, Licht-style, into not paying the attention we should. The book gets off to a tangled start, but readers are advised to stick with it. You'll get the picture soon enough, and join the Lichts on their compelling and unsettling path.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mike Borger on December 2, 1999
Format: Paperback
This was a quick yet detailed and, most importantly, FUN book to read. Take the Brady Bunch, make them top-notch con artists, throw 'em back another 100 years and you've got Licht family. What a strange crew, but it's such fun to read how each sibling slowly distances him/herself in his/her own unique way from Father and 'The Game'. Forget the romancy title and cover, this is not a Fabio book. Great character development. A must read!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 28, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I am an avid fan of Joyce Carol Oates. Though she excels at tales of the macabre, I enjoy her delves into history most. The Licht family was amazing and the story was magnificently woven in typical Oates fashion. I keep collecting her books and can't decide which to read next.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dai-keag-ity on September 1, 2005
Format: Paperback
I couldn't help but feel sad for Abraham Licht, the father at the heart of this novel set in the age of Ragtime, as first his wives and later his children deserted and betrayed him one by one. I got the impression throughout this book about the fall of a king among con-men, that nearly all Licht did in his career of non-violent, pseudo-victimless crime was done on his offspring's behalf, not his own. It was disheartening to read about the disintegration of a once-proud, cunning, powerful man whose worldly goods all came from his own intelligence and skill. I think the effects of isolation from those who are loved was the real soul of this book more than the grifting and elaborately staged thefts that lay on the surface. I didn't find as much evil in Abraham as others seemed to. He loved his children, he was devoted to them, he served them in any way that was within his range: in return they were disloyal. As he said of his life of schemes and swindles, those he conned were willing partners in their own downfalls. "Complicity? Then no crime." Anyone who fails to understand that this is a sadly revealed tragedy is missing Oates' central story.
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