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What I Lived For Hardcover – October 1, 1994

22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Another big novel from the prolific Oates, this tale of a successful middle-aged real estate developer whose hidden past surges up to wreak havoc on his present was one of PW's best books for 1994 and a PEN/Faulkner nominee.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Oates's latest novel is a big, breathless, complex, and sometimes painfully intense tale relating one man's every thought and move during the 1992 Memorial Day weekend. Corky Corcoran is a cocky, Irish Catholic, alcoholic, self-made millionaire as well as a city council member in Union City, New York. The turning point for Corky comes with the suicide of Marilee Plummer, a beautiful, politically ambitious black woman who had recently accused a black city council member of raping her. Even in his befuddled, alcoholic state, Corky wonders if his political friends had orchestrated Marilee's death and calls for a full investigation that antagonizes city government. Despite a somewhat contrived climax, Oates has created a remarkably detailed portrait of a man's life; however, Corky, an essentially stupid man whose actions are usually governed by his sexual or violent impulses, doesn't seem to merit such concentrated scrutiny. An interesting addition to Oates's body of work, this is recommended for public libraries.
--Patricia Ross, Westerville P.L., Ohio
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult; First Edition edition (October 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525938362
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525938361
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 20 x 20 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,319,108 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 21, 1997
Format: Paperback
"Corky" Corcoran is not the best of men--a womanizer, not the most honest of politicians or businessmen, and a somewhat failing father and nephew--but as Oates develops Corky you begin to actually like him. You definitely will never love his character but you breathe with him, live with him, and feel his pain and his ecstacy over a non-stop Memorial Day weekend. Corky is always moving and sweet-talking in his expensive Caddy, in his expensive clothing, with a glass of Red Label whiskey in his hand. To tell of Corky's plight that drives him all over town during this Memorial Day weekend would be to ruin the reader's enjoyment of the book. Be warned though that Oates' prose is raw and uninhibited and speaks through Corky's male perspective. Her prose can be disconcerting at times with graphic expletives galore but get past that and you will find an excellent and engrossing novel that delves into Corky's psyche
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By J. McWilliams on November 19, 2001
Format: Paperback
Oates fans will see familiar territory here: Alcoholism, emotional detachment, failed relationships, the dull thud of time as it drags us through a suburban existence. This is Oates' obsession, recycled for the ten-thousandth time.
What's new to this novel is Oates' ability to cause the reader to abandon moral outrage and identify completely with the main character, Corky Corcoran. He's shady and often crosses over into lewdness that embarrasses the reader. But - why is this? - you start to like him. You give in, not because he deserves your love, but because you want to give it to him. Only Oates could pull it off.
I'm an avid reader of the novelist's work, and this book is by far the best. Months after reading that final line of that exhausting novel, I still miss Corky Corcoran in my life.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 21, 2002
Format: Paperback
I read "What I Lived For" in Polish several years ago when it was freshly translated and published in a deluxe hardcover series in Poland. My impressions faded a bit in their freshness since that time, but I still remember what tickled me while reading this novel. Never having been to America beforehand, I tried to form the image of this country based on literature, motion pictures and third-hand information coming from people of my cultural heritage who have been there already. This novel by Joyce Carol Oates helped me form the initial expectations, adding just another brick in the wall of expectations, to borrow a phrase from Roger Waters. Much like the Floydian Wall, that house of cards fell down and disintegrated almost from the very first day of my visit to America, but after several years spent here, I think that if nothing else, Oates's novel is about the only remaining bastion of my old impressions. I still perceive the fictional world of Oates as representative for America, or to be precise, a slice from the overall cake of a picture. Her fiction, though never being pompous or in-your-face-yankee-style patriotic quasi-fiction of the engaged kind, it serves quite well as a door to America, to the anxieties specific to the upstart middle class, an endemic layer of the American society half of the country aspiring to, the newcomer generation in particular, the other half having just outgrown it and moved forward. There is a multitude of possible answers to a trite question what makes America so special, what makes it a magnet attracting people from all over the world. "What I Lived For" is one of these answers, and a compelling one at that.Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 12, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is a very powerful book. I read the first chapter three times before I continued, because I was amazed at what I was reading. The writing is so strong, the character so well written, I feel like I know him and like him for all his flaws. I loved this book, because of it I have gone on to read 10 more JCO novels and this one is still one of my favorites.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mary Allen on March 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent novel. Joyce Carol Oates takes everyday people and shows them in their glory and their faults, which makes you feel like you know them. WHAT I LIVED FOR covers a period in the life of Corky Corcoran, local bigwig, city councilman, and man-about-town. The book has a wonderfully vivid prologue which sets the mood for Corky's adult life. Fitted into the story, but not as a main pont, is the questionable death of a former, quasi-girlfriend and the ensuing police investigation. Corky deals with his married lover, his mentally-imbalanced stepdaughter, and his dearest childhood friend, all in an affable manner. The ending is emotional, but the epilogue is excellent, setting everything straight. Ms. Oates is talented, very versatile and a joy to read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 26, 1999
Format: Paperback
I'm a big fan of Joyce Carol Oates, but this book was much better than I thought it would be, and has remained in my thoughts though I read it more than a year ago. Corky Corcoran is a fascinating, tragic character and his story is alternately repulsive and compelling. I loved this book.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 29, 1999
Format: Paperback
Joyce Carol Oates is a terrific writer, and some of the passages in this book are incredibly powerful. However, whenever the topic turns to sex and romance, her prose becomes embarrassingly commercial, excessive, predictable, and gushy, kind of like Danielle Steele on speed. The character of Corky Corcoran is realistic in some ways, but when she ultimately presents him as some kind of macho superstud hero, the book takes an irrevocable turn toward being a disappointment.
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