Oh man. Something Old, Something New is on its third installment. I wasn’t planning on it becoming a regular thing when I wrote the first SOSN post, but here we are.
In a nutshell, this post is about two books. One I have read (something old), and one that I haven’t (something new). Easy enough, right?
All of us have favorite books that stay with us. We tuck them away on shelves and in our minds, until something or someone sparks a memory of them. Why do some stories resonate more than others? I think it boils mostly down to timing. We can be interested in a topic or story, but if our mindset is a million miles away, it just won’t work-at that time. Time and again I have revisited a book that I just couldn’t get in to before, but knew it had potential to be something I’d like or even love, so I held on to it, or at least the memory of it. Sometimes it takes seeing it for the umpteenth time, or a recommendation from someone unexpected, or just waking up on the right side of the bed. I don’t know. But something, some force of nature pulls you back in. You give it another chance, and-bam, it’s a new favorite.
The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates (JCO) is one of my favorites. If I remember correctly, my mom recommended it to me. I read this heft of a book (512 pages) many years ago. It might’ve even been my introduction to JCO. The story is quite tragic. It’s about a woman named Ariah Erskine who is dubbed, The Widow Bride of the Falls. Following of horrible honeymoon night, Ariah’s groom throws himself over Niagara Falls the next day.
It must’ve been a BAD night (maybe they should’ve just read books and ate dessert)! 😉
Anyway as a search for his body goes on for several days, Ariah ends up unexpectedly attracting the attention of a prominent, single man, Dirk Burnaby. What follows is a love affair, marriage, and family, but tragedy strikes yet again to this seemingly newfound perfect life.
When I read this book all those years ago I remember thinking, I’ve never heard of the name Erskine before. Not shocking, since it is a little off the beaten path from Smith, Williams, or Roberts. Well I looked it up on some baby name website. While it is an old Scottish name, the two meanings I found were:
1. “Upon the knife” is the Gaelic translation
But check #2,
2. Dweller on the top of a cliff ( ie. could totally be Niagara Falls, but either way, a cliff or NFs can be jumped off. )
JCO is a brainiac, so I have no doubt that she knew this little fact when she selected the name Erskine.
My Something New is Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates. This book was given to me about a year or so ago from a friend. This is also a tome of a book, coming in at 754 pages. Below is the Amazon synopsis:
• In this ambitious book, Joyce Carol Oates boldly reimagines the inner, poetic, and spiritual life of Norma Jeane Baker—the child, the woman, the fated celebrity and idolized blonde the world came to know as Marilyn Monroe. In a voice startling, intimate, and rich, Norma Jeane tells her own story, that of an emblematic American artist—intensely conflicted and driven—who has lost her way. A powerful portrait of Hollywood’s myth and an extraordinary woman’s heartbreaking reality, Blonde is a sweeping epic that pays tribute to the elusive magic and devastation behind the creation of the great twentieth-century American star •
It’s an interesting thought whether a celebrity would achieve the same level of fame had they lived in another time. Of course there is no way to know this, but Marilyn Monroe is one of those stars that I wonder that about. I think she was quite multi-faceted, but was often presented to be just the opposite. If anyone could write convincingly as Marilyn, it would be JCO- she is both simply and incredibly talented.
Joyce Carol Oates is originally from New York. She worked at Princeton from 1978 to 2014 and was the Professor Emerita in Humanities with the creative writing program. She is the author of 58 novels, as well as several plays, poetry, and novellas. Her first novel, With Shuddering Fall was published in 1964, when she was just twenty-six years old. In 1994 she wrote We Were the Mulvaneys, which was selected by Oprah’s Book Club In 2001. It was also made in to a Lifetime movie, which was really well done. JCO also writes suspense novels under two pen names, Rosamond Smith and Lauren Kelly. She is a fan of the writings of Sylvia Plath, but not of the romanticism of suicide, which often accompanied much of Plath’s works. She was married twice, both husbands preceding her in death, in fact, her second husband just passed away in April of this year. JCO was an avid journal keeper. She had started a journal in 1978, which ended up being 4,000 typewritten pages. In 2008 she changed over to keeping her journal entries in email format for preservation purposes.
Most of this information for this very brief biography of JCO was found on Wikipedia as well as cover flaps from her book dust jackets.
Joyce Carol Oates is a fascinating woman. If you come across a book of hers, I urge you to give it a try. She does have some shorter novels, but if you choose a longer one, and you stick with it, I think you will find it time well spent.
Until tomorrow, Bookworms.
“Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled ‘This could change your life.’” – Helen Exley