What it is: I Am No One You Know by Joyce Carol Oates is a collection of nineteen short stories surrounding the lives of women and girls encountering a whole range of human experiences from love to grief to danger. She reveals new understanding of humanity through mystery and intrigue.
What I liked about it: If you’ve never read any of JCO’s work, you need to get on that. Her writer’s voice is spot-on and speaks universal truths without becoming preachy or cliched. She makes readers feel the characters–walking a mile in their shoes isn’t enough, we walk hundreds of miles in their skin. While collections of short stories can feel disjointed, I Am No One You Know unified the distinct characters and plotlines with similar settings (New York state, from small towns upstate to NYC) and repeated symbols (for instance, a claw hammer).
What I didn’t like about it: It’s a collection of short stories. I really like short stories, but I find it nearly impossible to read them one after another. I require a bit of space after each piece to allow myself to shift to a completely new character’s situation, especially because JCO’s themes are deliberately intense. While the stories do have elements that tie them together nicely, having to set the book down every 10-20 pages makes it drag on a bit.
Memorable quote: (On personality) “It’s not like actual bones, or teeth, something solid. It’s more like a flame. A flame can be upright, and a flame can flicker in the wind, a flame can be extinguished so there’s no sign of it, like it had never been.”
Overall rating: 4/5 stars.
Challenge satisfied: #3, read a collection of short stories, either by one person or an anthology by many people.
Additional notes: My favorite stories in the collection were “Girl With the Blackened Eye,” “Aiding and Abetting,” “Fire,” “Happiness,” “Cumberland Breakdown,” and “The Instructor.” If you’re looking to read just one story by Joyce Carol Oates instead of a whole collection, I recommend any of those.
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