In her bewitching 30th novel, I'll Take You There
, Joyce Carol Oates returns again to neurotic female post-adolescence. The unnamed narrator attends an upstate New York university in the early 1960s. In those times of tightly prescribed femininity, she joins a sorority in a bald attempt to become part of the sisterhood of normalcy. It doesn't work. She reads philosophy, she works for a living, she's asexual, she's an orphan, she's a Jew: "I was a freak in the midst of their stunning, stampeding, blazing female normality." Booted from the sorority, she falls hard for a thirtyish black philosophy student who seems to her to live on a higher plane than the rest of humanity. In the final section, she is called west to the deathbed of someone she thought was lost to her forever. Oates brings together some of her strongest trademark qualities: She writes her character's life as though it were a fairy tale. She sells her material, bringing dramatic tension to the very first page: "They would claim I destroyed Mrs. Thayer.... Yet others would claim that Mrs. Thayer destroyed me." And she writes with tender care about the intellectual life of her young protagonist. Some find Oates's obsession with nascent womanhood claustrophobic, but in this heroine she finds a vein of integrity and intellectual probity peculiar to those who are not quite adult. Most writers treat college life as comedy or romance. Oates, on the other hand, seriously explores an age when we are most terribly ourselves. She seems to find something deeply human and pleasingly dramatic in this time wedged between childhood and adulthood. --Claire Dederer
From Publishers Weekly
Most of us transcend the solipsism of loneliness by involvement in family, school or work. "Anellia," the narrator of Oates's 30th novel (who never reveals her real name), is denied the comfort of a family, finds education to be a frustrating journey through various hostile worlds and finally becomes that most solitary of creatures, a writer. The time is the early '60s. Anellia is the last child of Ida and Eric. After Ida's death (for which Anellia is blamed by her three brothers), Eric leaves his daughter to be raised by his cold German Lutheran parents in the upstate New York town of Strykersville. Anellia wins a scholarship to Syracuse University around 1960. She becomes for a period a Kappa Gamma Pi. The conventionally girlish Kappas are a decidedly different breed from Anellia: she is intellectual, shy, careless of her looks and hygiene, poor. Eventually the Kappas and Anellia come to a violent parting of the ways. Next, Anellia has a depressingly anhedonic affair with a black philosophy graduate student, Vernor Matheius. Vernor is trying to hold himself aloof from the civil rights struggle making the evening news, yet necessarily becomes drawn in. In the final section, Anellia, living in Vermont and working on her first book, goes to Utah to be with her father on his deathbed. Oates's fans will be pleased by the usual care with which she goes about constructing the psychology of Anellia and Vernor, but may find Anellia too narrow and stifling a spirit, limiting the larger gestures and bravura flashes of gothicism at which Oates excels.
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