Tuesday, August 12, 2008

joyce carol oatmeal



I've never been much for Joyce Carol Oates one way or the other - at most, she's existed on the periphery of my semi-consciousness as one of those writers I really "should" read, but am not all that interested in reading, but who doesn't make me want to stab myself in the face with a nail file. Then my friend Sacha brought to my attention this story from the June 2008 issue of Harper's - and brought it to my attention as a piece of shit, I might add - and the next thing I knew, I was huddled on the futon, basted in blood, my old pal Mack the Knife lodged in my grip. Okay, that last part isn't strictly true, but check out this excerpt from "Suicide By Fitness Center" and watch if you don't see that selfsame dagger before you, the handle toward your hand.

"In these rapidly waning days of the year when the sun sets at ever earlier hours and shadows dart upward from the snow-caramelized earth like malevolent elves, it is a mystery why each day is in fact longer than the preceding day by as many as forty unbearable minutes; and why, since we are not idiots, we continue to endure."


I'm sorry - you want plot? Okay, Comrades, here is plot. Unnamed, depressed housewife joins the Halcyon Mills Fitness Center (ooh, looks like someone's been ripping off Armistead Maupin!), which appears to be somewhere in Westchester County, and whilst working her repressed nerves on the treadmill, ruminates on her fellow fitness center denizens, all of whom have such names as Eggplant Man and Carrot Top and Big Gus (how quirky!)and luxuriates in her seasonal affective disorder, much to the reader's considerable agony (well, this reader, at any rate, and I feel compelled to point out that despite/because of/exacerbated by an MFA in fiction writing earned back in the mid-Triassic period, I nurture a deep hatred for fictional accounts of passionless marriages in Westchester, and that MFA, in my case, appears to stand for Master's in Fucking Around). And let us not forget the ham-handed symbolism of the black cat ("The gym cat appears to those who will die.This thought came to me a few weeks ago. I shared it with no one, of course."). How dark and disturbing! I wonder what will happen...oh, that's right. I don't. Because I don't give a flying fuck at a rolling donut about this insufferable narrator. I don't know who she is, and more to the point, I could not possibly care less why she's all mopey in a fitness center in the NYC suburbs (seasonal affective disorder, passionless marriage, blah blah suck my left tit). I mean, what the frig was Harper's thinking, running this piece of tripe? And is JCO so untouchable that she can shit in a plastic bucket and the literati or its personal assistants will follow her around with a bronzing kit? Isn't "Have the character love something outside of him/herself" one of the immutable rules of good writing? And I thought I was a craptacular writer! Oh, wait, I am, and not just because I use non-words like "craptacular," either. I think it has something to do with my disdain for writing about raw-boned, delicate victims who suffer silently and elegiacally. My disdain for reading about them apparently means I'm stupid. See what grad school will teach you?

Oh, as for the "Joyce Carol Oatmeal" epithet - I stole that from Sacha, who stole it from someone else. I'm too lazy to look it up. But you know, JCO is too lazy to write a decent story, so I reckon that's all right. Oh, wait, it's totally not, because I've never won the National Book Award, and I likely never will, as long as I keep refusing to read/write about elegiac victims.

1 comment:

Karen Syed said...

Oh my God, this so rocks! I saw the image and immediately spilled my drink on my meeting partner. I felt compelled to read the piece with it...Gym cat, indeed.

http://karensyed.blogspot.com