by Joyce Carol Oates
Originally published in the March 29, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.
Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage.

Click for a larger image.

It’s been over a year since Oates showed up in these pages, though she often has several published in the course of a year. Last years’ offering was so-so for me (though better than many of this year’s). Unfortunately, this year’s first Oates offering is also just so-so for me.

The story centers around Lizette, a middle-school girl suffering through the typical problems of middle school — boys, lipstick, shame — but also from a physical malady, caused by her father, that killed the nerves around her now constantly watering eyes and also from her mother’s forays into Atlantic City’s nightlife.

We begin at school where Lizette is high on a beer buzz, go with her to the morgue for that I.D., and end up back in school for lunch.

One strength of the story is Oates’ writing style in which a very close third-person narrator takes us through Lizette’s morning. However, I didn’t even really like that and started to look at this story as an exercise, a competent exercise, but nothing really comes out of the style for me. The only thing that kept me reading was the promise of mystery.

I’m hoping next week is better.


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By |2016-06-08T18:26:31-04:00March 22nd, 2010|Categories: Joyce Carol Oates, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |8 Comments


  1. Trevor Berrett March 22, 2010 at 11:08 am

    New forum up for your comments.

  2. KevinfromCanada March 22, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    I had an appropriate window of time this morning so I dropped in on this story online.

    I did read a couple of Oates’ books many years ago, but nothing recently — she simply produces too much work in too many genres for me to follow her. Having said that, I do read her New Yorker stories with some interest, if not overwhelming enthusiasm.

    This one fits the mold of a typical Oates story for me. It is certainly competently written and has more plot than you normally get in even a longish short story (an Oates characteristic). Lisette the student is adequately introduced; the classroom stuff is entertaining. Her mother is described with perhaps a bit too much foreboding, setting up the trip to the hospital (credibility gets somewhat stretched here, taking a 13-year-old into the morgue). The conclusion falls rather flat.

    Leaving me with the overall impression of “so what” — another frequent KfC response to an Oates’ story I am afraid. Between daughter, mother and father — not too mention school chums — there are lots of bad people, but they tend to read like an inventory, rather than characters. Technically, Oates is quite a good writer but I wish her stories had more interesting content.

    I think as the comments in this short story thread illustrate, Claire Keegan’s story is much the best of the year so far.

  3. Joe March 23, 2010 at 12:33 am

    I do agree that “Foster” is the best story of the year so far, and I also really liked the Bolaño. Aside from that, it’s been pretty small pickin’s. I would say this story ranks 3rd for me.

    I was absorbed by it right from the beginning and there were some moments that I felt worked very well. For example, when Lisette is at the morgue and she tries to picture what would be happening at school at that very moment, imagining her own desk empty.

    I’ve always been a fan of Joyce Carol Oates because, if nothing else, you usually get a ripping yarn. She’s not afraid to write sordid tales where stuff *happens*, even when that’s not the fashion.

  4. Trevor Berrett March 26, 2010 at 10:29 am

    I’ve posted my thoughts on I.D. above. I hadn’t read the comments by Kevin and Joe before I posted, but I would say I’m pretty much in agreement with Kevin and can see where Joe is coming from, though I wouldn’t rate this story as highly.

  5. javins March 26, 2010 at 11:14 am

    I thought the ending was very ominous. It was a coming of age story and Lisette’s “Hell, why not?” to the “are you okay” question at the end is pretty scary given the circumstances of her life. I kept thinking she was looking at her own future in the morgue – her mother’s aunt’s phone number connected to the dead body; the dead woman badly beaten and face broken, as Lisette’s father did to her; the dead woman probably a prostitute working the hotels in the neighborhood where the boys who get Lisette drunk and ogle her at school do car burglaries at night.

    I agree that while it was very well written it was not very satisfying, perhaps because it seemed too obvious, piling one cliche of neglected childhood/adolescence and horrendous parenting on top of another.

  6. Trevor Berrett March 26, 2010 at 11:24 am

    Hi Javins, I like your insight comparing what her mother went through to what she is going through at school. Makes me rethink my final appraisal of the story and put it up a notch! Thanks!

  7. Letty April 10, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    I think it was her mother in the morgue, who that her mother had worked as a prostitute. CJO provides many clues to this from the purse and aunt’s phone number to the red suede coat. In fact, her realization that her mother had a similar coat but that her mom’s coat was “stylish” provides us with the biggest clue that Lisette is only capable of seeing glamour, sexiness, the things that glitter. She can’t accept that these scuzzy things were her mom’s. Javins is probably correct that she is seeing her future looking at her mother on the slab.

    Given the fact that the father had beaten them both and had a history of violence, he is also the likely murderer, a fact Lisett will never be able to accept.

  8. Turandot February 15, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    I like this story quite a lot. I’m interested in the way that Lizette displays symptoms of brain damage–the dizziness she exhibits just after “the fall,” the way she can no longer understand what’s going on in the classroom, her inattentiveness, inability to understand the passage of time, and decline in intelligence and understanding from her seventh to her eighth grade year.

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