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Little Bird of Heaven: A Novel Hardcover – September 15, 2009

3.6 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Beneath the Sturm und Drang of Oates's third book of 2009 is the archetypal fairy tale: beauty and the beast. The beauties are the narrator, Krista Diehl, and Zoe Kruller, a waitress and singer who was murdered in Sparta, N.Y., in 1983. The beasts are the men, most notably Krista's father, Eddy, who, as Zoe's lover, is suspected in her murder, and Aaron Kruller, who discovers his mother's body and grows up repressing the thought that his father might have killed her. While the women are torn between attraction to the men and the need to escape them, the men must eventually be blooded, psychically and, in Eddy's case, physically. Eddy starts out a predator, with tufts of animal-hair sticking out of his undershirt, and ends up at the wrong end of a barrage of police bullets. While Zoe's murder and Eddy's suicide-by-cop five years later are the story's anchors, the heart of this novel is how Krista and Aaron are drawn together, however briefly. Oates unfolds the central gothic intuition—that beauty and the beast are complements—in a way that Charlotte Brontë would highly approve. (Sept.)
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“Neither crime, nor punishment, the ultimate coupling in the novel serves as a triumph and a release on a scale and with the intensity we’ve come to expect from one of our country’s premier writers.” (NPR's All Things Considered)

“Well-told and ultimately powerful.” (The Onion)

“Readers are breathlessly along for the ride, never sure if Oates will let [her characters] reach redemption or have them fall prey to the hands of their violent, unforgiving upbringings.” (New York Post)

“An absorbing study of lust, trust, and an unsolved murder, Oates’s gritty new mystery explores the attraction between the son of the victim and daughter of the accused.” (Good Housekeeping)

“Oates’ 57th novel is a doozie....It’s vintage Oates: tragic violence, outsize ambitions, dashed hopes, strained family bonds, manly-men roughing up sassy-yet-submissive women, and, of course, sex-crazed teenagers.” (Elle)

“In this narcotic, unnerving, brilliantly composed tale of the struggle for control over the body’s archaic urges, and the quest for morality in a catastrophically corrupted world, Oates creates magnetic characters of heightened awareness and staggering valor.” (Booklist)

“[This novel] is classic Oates. Its depiction of violence, families falling from grace and social class disparities, as well as its location, recall her 1996 bestseller, WE WERE THE MULVANEYS. Fans of Oates will delight in this offering and newcomers to her work will receive a first-class introduction.” (BookPage)

“Little Bird of Heaven starts with the urgency of thriller, then turns into something more existential as the years (and pages) go by...This is a tragedy on a classical scale...Oates has written a feminist novel with empathy for men, especially men without power, with no voice besides violence.” (New York Times Book Review)

“[This novel]...has an unnerving clarity about the power of sexual desire...it cleaves to the mind like a strong memory, and after you’ve read it, you may find yourself dreaming about the imaginary town of Sparta, and wondering what the people are doing now.” (Chicago Sun-Times)

“’Quintessential Joyce Carol Oates: an expertly crafted, lovingly detailed character-driven novel of loss and longing. ” (Associated Press)

“A powerful novel...In Sparta she has created a fictional universe to stand beside Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County or Cheever’s Shady Hill....Oates [is] our closest contemporary analogue to Hawthorne: lyrical, moral, unforgiving.” (Washington Post)

“[This is] the novelist at her brooding best . . . a seamless, satisfying tale of small-town life where...the long-smoldering relationships among the residents can often be like ‘tangled roots, beneath the surface of the earth.’” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 442 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1st edition (September 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061829838
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061829833
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,076,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By K. Harris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on September 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
With "We Were the Mulvaneys" and "The Gravedigger's Daughter," Joyce Carol Oates mined the intense emotional battlefields that can arise within families. Similar in theme and seriousness is her latest--"Little Bird of Heaven." In small town Sparta, New York, a young mother is found murdered. The primary suspects are her estranged husband and a married man with whom she was having an affair. But this is not a mystery or a thriller, it is a study of how such a tragedy can affect the families involved. The central characters are the children of the suspects--Krista who had no idea her father was involved with the victim and Aaron who actually finds the body of his mother. Virtual strangers, Aaron and Krista are now eternally linked by the crime and are infatuated with each other even as they struggle with the rage of being on opposing sides.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of "Little Bird of Heaven" is its narrative device. The first half of the novel is told from Krista's point of view. A little girl who idolizes and idealizes her father even as the town, her mother, and her brother turn away--her naiveté and stubbornness keep the harsh realities at bay. The second half of the novel is told from Aaron's perspective. Less vocal and introspective, Aaron struggles with his mother's death and what might be his father's involvement. The underlying themes of prejudice permeate every page as the town of Sparta casts its shadows over all the participants. Both Krista and Aaron must confront silent accusations as the more they support their fathers, the more they distance themselves from their previous lives.

"Little Bird of Heaven" is both intimate, yet surprisingly aloof.
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Format: Hardcover
Little Bird of Heaven is inimitably Oates. It has all her signatures - -the stylization of her writing, the focus on family narrative as destiny, and the mixture of pain and love. The stylized writing in this book is more pronounced than in some of her others. She repeats some things multiple times for emphasis and for varied affect. Initially, this bothered me but as the book progressed, I was so caught up in the narrative that nothing could deter me from wanting to turn to the next page.

As in her other books, love is closely mixed with pain, sexual and emotional longing, cruelty and betrayal. The family narrative is examined as destiny. She explores the theme of wanting to rewrite our narratives with the hope that this time it can turn out differently. The characters are drawn to people and events that remind them of their pasts, painful as they were. However, they hope that by reliving the past, they can change the outcome. Oates asks the reader, `Can we really change our destinies?' She acknowledges the fact that life is ever-changing but people are caught up in the current of family destinies.

This novel is about the murder of a young woman named Zoe Kruller. She is a singer in a local band, mother of Aaron and estranged wife of Delray. There are two persons of interest, suspects in this murder - - Delray Kruller, Zoe's estranged husband, and Eddie Diehl, Zoe's lover. Eddie is the father of Krista and he has been having an affair with Zoe for quite some time. Once the murder occurs he is shunned by his wife and made to leave their home.

The story is told in two parts, from two viewpoints. The first half of the book is told from the vantage point of Krista Diehl, Eddie's daughter. She is close to her father and loves him unconditionally.
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Format: Hardcover
OK I admit it. I read everything by Joyce Carol Oates. That being said this is once again a marvel written by a writer who continues to outdo herself. In terms of nuanced phrasing, intriguing plot, subtlety of language, never revealing too much, and pulling the reader along in a magnetic aura of a dream, Oates is a master. If you have read nothing else of hers, you can start here and learn to love her artistry in a genre she has taken as her own territory. If you have liked or loved or even hated other books of hers (because admit it, she is versatile and varied) read this one. She is the real thing.
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I am a huge Joyce Carol Oates fan, but that doesn't mean I enjoyed all of her books;sometimes I think Oates engages in what I call "character over-development", but not this time. In "Little Bird of Heaven", she delves just deep enough into each major character that you feel like you know them as close as you would a sibling or good friend, in a way that makes you feel strongly for the character and even make you pity someone you never would have pitied unless you were in their shoes.
Also, I lived in a small town for about ten years and Oates has an eerie and uncanny knack for encompassing the small town mentality (where everyone knows everyone and their business) as well as giving the reader a vivid visual of the streets, houses, factories and shops, people, etc. of a town that has fallen on rough times and how the entire place seems to be affected and defined by the murder-scandal that occurred. We have all been told a million times in our lives that there are "two sides to every story" and truer words have never been spoken when it comes to describing the characters and their depictions/thoughts of events in this book; it truly makes you ponder things a lot more deeply when you can see vastly varying viewpoints about a solitary occurrence. I recommend this book to all Oates fans as well as those who are not.
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