by Joyce Carol Oates
Small Avalanches and Other Stories
HarperTempest, March, 2003.
Hardcover, 400 pages.
Ages Young Adult
Although it is listed as a book for young adults, Small Avalanches and Other Stories is very definitely a book to be enjoyed by older students as well as all fans of Joyce Carol Oates, regardless of age. The stories are short enough to be finished during a cross-country flight, a wait at the airport, an afternoon at the beach, or a long weekend with the leisure to read.
Small Avalanches contains a broad range of stories, all featuring the traumas and doubts of coming of age along with the clear-eyed view of the adult world which is unclouded by experience and mature judgment. The stories range from a story of seduction in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?", to "The Sky Blue Ball", a story of isolation and disappointment. "Bad Girls" is a powerful story of young guilt made more poignant by the fact that the only reason that things turned out badly was due to teenage self-absorption and lack of maturity.
One of the most fascinating stories in this collection is interesting because of its form. "How I Contemplated the World From the Detroit House of Correction and Began My Life over Again" is explained in a preface as "notes for an essay for an English class at Baldwin Country Day School; poking around in debris;...a revelation of the meaning of life." Written in outline form, it gives the reader a view of how a writer works. The story also leaves many questions unanswered and events which must be inferred. It is a riveting use of form, filled with insight into the mind of a young person in the last sequences of the human metamorphosis from teen to young adult.
Joyce Carol Oates gives us a feast of characterization and incisive sketches of the settings of the stories. It should prove interesting reading for those who enjoy the art of the short story.
--Sarah Reaves White
Small Avalanches and Other Stories is available for purchase on Amazon.com
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This review was published in the April-May, 2003 of The Internet Writing Journal.
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