Joyce Carol Oates’ latest collection of short stories, The (Other) You is filled with ruminations about life’s journey. She ponders what life would be like if we had chosen other paths or made different choices. In fifteen short stories, she makes us think about our mortality as we look back over our years of living.
She has written stories that cause us to think deeply about the what-if’s as she takes us through snippets of her own journey as a literary writer. As she quibbles with a beloved spouse whose health is declining during a disappointing trip abroad, she has us thinking about the depth of enduring relationships. Yet, we are rudely awakened as we see that nothing lasts forever and she also notes how close friends and co-workers are aging and facing health challenges.
She visits her childhood home after many years and sees and hears about what happened to some her former classmates. Though she holds onto precious memories, the present conditions there do not mirror her past recollections. There are only fractures of what she experienced strewn here and there, once again reminding her that life is ever-moving and nothing stays the same.
In one story, a character wonders why her loved ones cannot see her, only to realize that she is no longer alive and they are mourning her accidental demise. Or, in other instances she experiments with speaking from several characters’ points of view though they are all involved in the same scenario.
Oates takes many risks, as she writes in a variety of genres and a couple of her stories even border on horror. She makes the valid point that we unconsciously dismiss the importance of others due to our own stereotypical beliefs. She labeled her writing best when she called it speculative fiction. She certainly makes us appreciate the gifts of our current paths which shaped us into who we are today because other choices would have molded us into becoming someone else!
April 10, 2021