Title: Expensive People
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publication: Vanguard Press 1968
Rating: 3.5 stars
About a week ago I wandered into a store called Diskovery down the street from my living situation. The store was jammed with semi-tidy piles of CDs, tapes, records, and BOOKS.
Clearly, I went in because of the used books, which were divided loosely by subject. So, I went to the fiction-ish section and found a couple of books, one of which was Expensive People by Joyce Carol Oates. I bought two books that cost $4.00 together because the owner was having a sale. I’m using the word “bought” as loosely as possible. In reality, I didn’t buy the books. Since I didn’t have any cash, the lady let me take them for free saying, “You’ll be back. Just pay me later.” What?! Seriously? Ummm…I feel like I’m stealing right now. Don’t worry, reader! I paid the poor woman her $4 a couple of days later. She must know her clientele well, because she was right I went back again and again. I can’t seem to stay away.
You can’t go in there expecting to find anything in particular, which is probably 98% of my attraction to the little hole in the wall. I am always pleasantly surprised by what I find. For example, I didn’t premeditate reading a first person fictional memoir about a child murderer, but it happened. And I enjoyed it!
Expensive People is written by a female author but is the memoir of an adult male character. Despite frequent assertions in the text that this is a real memoir–it isn’t. She plays with the definition of memoir and the differences between it and fiction. Post-modern much?
The fictional writer creates a bond with you (the reader) through his conversational tone and chaotic, drawn out plot structure that seems nothing like that of a novel. It’s a super weird story about a little boy who loves his mother unconditionally, but she doesn’t seem to care about him one way or another. She is incredibly introverted and self-centered, leaving her family twice throughout the course of the story. The whole story leads up to the point where the writer reveals who he murdered when he was a child; he wants you to get to know the victim. As I said: super weird story.
I don’t know if I would suggest reading this particular book to anyone, but I’m certainly looking forward to reading more of Joyce Carol Oates work. For a short example of her writing, you can read her story “Pumkin Head” at newyorker.com (CLICK TO READ).
Oates’s short story “I.D” is also really good Click Here to read.