Sep 21, 2008

The Sunday Salon - Delayed Short Story

♫ You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last. But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast.♫


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After reading my last short story entry on The Lottery, my friend and fellow plurker, NoLu, comment that for her it was deeply connected to Joyce Carol Oates's Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? I decided to pick that as my next reading in her honor. You can visit her on her blog to find out more about her, what she's reading, and her family.

"All art is autobiographical." ~JCO

Joyce Carol Oates was often inspired by real life events. Her realism acts as a sieve through which her social criticism is combined with interpretations of myth and literary conventions. Through her literature Oates explores different facets of everyday life in America. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? was originally published in 1967.

"Her name was Connie. She was fifteen and she had a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people's faces to make sure her own was all right. Her mother, who noticed everything and knew everything and who hadn't much reason any longer to look at her own face, always scolded Connie about it."
The story opens with your average teenage girl exploring her vanities and/or insecurities. Which is it? With teens, things are never what they seem. What can be perceived as vanity could really be deep set masked insecurities. But Connie expresses her understanding that "...she knew she was pretty and that was everything." While at first you are concerned that maybe she doesn't think strongly enough of herself, but it is even more unsettling to find out that her vanity means everything to her. Her beauty is a directly connected to her understanding of self worth.

Connie finds the need to create a duality in her life. She is split into appearance and reality as she makes the transition from child to woman, seemingly being both and neither at the same time. "Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home..." Connie enjoyed the woman she could be while out with her friends. She enjoyed the attention from boys. But there was also a sanctuary that being home provided. Her summer was filled with music and boy. The bridge between innocence and maturity. Connie is trying to find her place in the world and understand her identity. Her understanding of herself is still firmly rooted in her physical beauty.

"But all the boys fell back and dissolved into a single face that was not even a face but an idea, a feeling, mixed up with the urgent insistent pounding of the music and the humid night air of July." The tinkling sounds of music run through the narrative. Connie is striving for the feeling, the idea, the something more than she has now. Because for all her beauty, she isn't finding love, though she has a strong desire for it. The threads of music stitched her desires with reality. "Connie sat with her eyes closed in the sun, dreaming and dazed with the warmth about her as if this were a kind of love, the caresses of love..."

The story is about an average teenager, in an average town, doing average things. She seems o have a distinct personality, she is a fully fleshed character in the reader's mind. But soon the conceptions of her begin to change, just as they are for herself.

The Dylanesque rock star wannabe arrives. His voice speaks the words of music. His hands tap the rhythm of life. His voice lilts like the lyrics of Dylan. He is interesting and dangerous.

Arnold Friend is a stronger who doesn't seem a stranger. He knows you well enough hat maybe you figure you should know him too. I see him as the antithesis of the Everyman. He is the Noman. For Conner he transitions from a minor annoyance to a full blow threat when "...she had the idea that he had driven up the driveway all right but had come from nowhere before that and belonged nowhere and that everything about him and even about the music that was so familiar to her was only half real." The realization flashed across the descriptions of Arnold. Suddenly he is acting like a boy, playing the part, saying rehearsed words, wearing a mask. He stands before Connie in his rocker boy costume attempting to seduce her. At the same time hinting at the harm that may come to her. Connie's interaction with Arnold becomes more surrealistic as each of his devilish disguises are observed by Connie. The idea of a masked player with a stumbling nature and ill fitting boot is congruent with other literary concepts of the Devil presented in half human form, often with goat legs or cloven feet. He is now in the role of the tempter.

The ending of the story is intentionally vague. Though Oates has stated that the piece was inspired by the story of a known serial killer. The story is also dedicated to Bob Dylan.
"The story was in fact suggested by a real-life incident involving a young teenaged girl and a "charismatic" serial killer in Tuscon, Arizona, and not by Dylan's song. Yet the haunting melody of "Baby Blue" seemed to beautifully approximate the atmosphere of my story, as of that time."
♫ And it's all over now, Baby Blue. ♫

Press play for an audio of the story.



What do you think the title means?

4 comments:

  1. Excellent! You have out done yourself again.

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  2. What a wonderful post! I am noticing that quite a few people are reading Joyce Carol Oates lately. This one sounds really good.

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  3. This was the first (and so far only) story by JCO that I read, but I loved it and would love to read more by her. I loved the way the tension was built up throughout the story.

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  4. Nicely done, sweets. You explore the layers of the story in fine form; I'm glad you found it worthwhile. Thanks much for the linkage!

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