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Sourland: Stories Hardcover – September 14, 2010

4.0 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Oates's latest collection explores certain favorite Oatesian themes, primary among them violence, loss, and privilege. Three of the stories feature white, upper-class, educated widows whose sheltered married lives have left them unprepared for life alone. In "Pumpkin-Head" and "Sourland," the widows--Hadley in the first story, Sophie in the second--encounter a class of Oatesian male: predatory, needy lurkers just out of prosperity's reach. In the first story, our lurker is Anton Kruppe, a Central European immigrant and vague acquaintance of Hadley whose frustrations boil over in a disastrous way. In the second story, Sophie is contacted by Jeremiah, an old friend of her late husband, and eventually visits him in middle-of-nowhere northern Minnesota, where she discovers, too late, his true intentions. The third widow story, "Probate," concerns Adrienne Myer's surreal visit to the courthouse to register her late husband's will, but Oates has other plans for Adrienne, who is soon lost in a warped bureaucratic funhouse worthy of Kafka. Oates's fiction has the curious, morbid draw of a flaming car wreck. It's a testament to Oates's talent that she can nearly always force the reader to look.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Oates is a master of the dark tale—stories of the hunted and the hunter, of violence, trauma, and deep psychic wounds. Brilliant in her disclosure of the workings of minds under threat, Oates also possesses a heightened sense of the body's expressiveness, from a man's gait to the smell of his breath to the strength of his grip to the intensity of his stare. Oates grows more insightful, virtuosic, and audacious in her confrontations with fear, pain, and death. Her latest stories of sexual mayhem, family crisis, and shattered identity are barely contained beasts of narration, snorting, pawing, and pulling against the confines of the page. Consider all the adult males preying on innocent girls; or the vicious former model with her “sword-like legs” and poisonous narcissism in “Bonobo Momma”; or the glamorous, young, disabled, and dangerous librarian in “Amputee.” Oates has added a new player to her troupe: the in-shock widow, women who feel exposed and fragile after their male protectors abruptly die, as in “Probate,” a lacerating story of sorrow, absurdity, and breakdown, and “Pumpkin-Head” and “Sourland,” explicit tales of bloodlust and the ecstasy and agony of terror and submission. This is a trenchant book of “cruel fairy tales” in which people are severely tested, profoundly punished, and tragically transformed. --Donna Seaman
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First edition (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061996521
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061996528
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,081,752 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The world Joyce Carol Oates creates in SOURLAND is dark, tense, wintry and hostile. With characteristic style, both lyrical and menacing, her latest collection of short stories draws readers in with mundane circumstances and asks them to experience the fear and desperation of the characters. It is an uncomfortable yet brilliant read.

Victimization, violence, loneliness and uncertainty plague the figures in these 16 stories. Several particular themes emerge: the vulnerability of widows, children at the mercy of unstable adults, and emotional instability. The scenes are at once commonplace and bizarre, and Oates is amazing at capturing the interior emotional lives of people in extreme, violent or frightening situations.

Four stories deal with women who are grieving the deaths of their husbands. In "Pumpkin-Head," Hadley is courted by an awkward young man who offers to help her around the house. But when he shows up with a jack-o'-lantern covering his face and grows increasingly agitated, Hadley realizes his intentions are not benevolent after all. In "Probate," the very recently widowed Adrienne finds herself in a Kafka-esqe courthouse where she is interrogated, strip-searched and detained after her husband's will is found to contain photographs of mutilated bodies. In the titular "Sourland," a widow named Sophie boldly reunites with a college acquaintance in the middle of the Minnesota wilderness only to find him disfigured, angry and violent. Sophie thinks "the surviving spouse" inhabits a space not much larger than a grave." That sense of confinement, isolation, dread and mortality permeates all the stories here. "Death Certificate" shows a different side of widowhood as Yvonne is predatory and brash.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have loved her writing for many years. While it is always provocative and often disturbing, Oates refrains from graphic sensationalism and, instead, offers us the opportunity to consider that humanity's experiences, motives and reasoning are varied - I believe that she succeeds in challenging our perceptions of the human condition.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I'm a long, long-time fan of Joyce Carol Oates. So prolific a writer cannot produce a masterpiece with every publication. I bought this CD to listen to while I sew or bake. For this purpose, the stories work well. They do not cause me to stop what I'm doing to listen in shock and/or awe as a lot of Oates' work does. For this reason, I can't suggest five stars, but as a hopeless fan, I still recommend reading or listening to Oates' work whenever and wherever it's available.
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Format: Hardcover
I have always admired Oates as a short-story writer and as a novelist. In many ways I think she's better in short stories, as their length doesn't allow her the indulgence in which she engages in many of her novels. (I have heard a rumor that she doesn't allow herself to be edited in any way. I wonder if this is true.)

The problem with short story collections is often that they seem sort of thrown together with no real thread to make them work as a whole. The theme of SOURLAND might be the soured relationships between people, misunderstanding as a result of unspoken or conflicting expectations. A few of the stories are quite frankly opaque. "The Story of the Stabbing," "Uranus," and "Donor Organs" are all set pieces that don't seem to have a lot to say. "The Death Certificate," about a chance encounter between two former extramarital lovers, was an insightful piece about the differences in what makes men tick vs. what makes women tick. "Amputee" is a very odd/strange/Gothic story about an amputee and her sexual power, almost as if having a limb removed has given her a level of power that fully limbed person could not have. Interesting, provocative, a little disturbing.

For me, though, the most touching and telling story is "The Barter," about a boy whose father is sick and dying, and who is looking for friendship and support - and what happens to him. It's quite a powerful story, and I have to wonder how Oates knows the adolescent male psyche so well.
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By A Customer on September 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Sourland is a super anthology that focuses on the down side of relationships with the typical Joyce Carol Oates' themes of violence and loss leading to psychological traumas. This makes for a strong insightful collection with no losers. In "Pumpkin-Head", "Sourland," and "Probate" lonely susceptible widows having recently lost their protective mates and encounter an ugly new world order when males use them or the bureaucracy abuses them. In "Bonobo Momma", Ms. Oates turns upside down her usual lethal male when a rapacious former model is the nasty player. In haunting "Daddy Lost", mommy puts people to sleep at the medical clinic while daddy stays home after being downsized to watch over frightened little Tod. In "Honor Code", she knows her life is before and after cousin Sonny or more descriptive before and after manslaughter. Though printed in a variety of magazines in similar form, with these sixteen short stories, Ms. Oates provides a profound look at the dark side of relationships with beasts feasting and "Beating" on the vulnerable.

Harriet Klausner
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