Review by Booklist Review
Oates is at her creepy best when she gives full rein to her fascination with the unwholesome, the obsessed, the dangerous. Her eroticism verges on the macabre and the masochistic, and she is intrigued with the death of innocence. What better setting for exploring such themes than a college campus, where young women away from home for the first time struggle to forge an identity among strangers, and appetites are rendered unhealthy under the stress of academic and peer pressure? Beasts [BKL O 1 01] is a gothic tale about a college coed, as is this portrait of a brilliant, unstable, spindly, wild-haired white girl so consumed by her inner life, and so in flux psychologically, that readers never even learn her name. An early 1960s scholarship student, she gets accepted into a sorority only to discover that she doesn't fit in and can't afford the lifestyle. She extracts herself at great mental and social peril, then, half-starved, develops a delirious infatuation with a brainy and conflicted black graduate student. Their intense and increasingly psychotic scenes together reveal a morass of racial misapprehension and echo the passion and violence of the civil rights movement. Oates' phoenixlike narrator eventually leaves the wet, windy East for sun-baked Utah to see her father before he dies, but in a diabolically ironic twist, she's forbidden to actually look at him. A master at articulating the emotional valence of place and the turbulent weather of the mind, Oates pushes human experience to the edge of normality where the tides of madness and myth roll in. Donna Seaman.
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Most of us transcend the solipsism of loneliness by involvement in family, school or work. "Anellia," the narrator of Oates's 30th novel (who never reveals her real name), is denied the comfort of a family, finds education to be a frustrating journey through various hostile worlds and finally becomes that most solitary of creatures, a writer. The time is the early '60s. Anellia is the last child of Ida and Eric. After Ida's death (for which Anellia is blamed by her three brothers), Eric leaves his daughter to be raised by his cold German Lutheran parents in the upstate New York town of Strykersville. Anellia wins a scholarship to Syracuse University around 1960. She becomes for a period a Kappa Gamma Pi. The conventionally girlish Kappas are a decidedly different breed from Anellia: she is intellectual, shy, careless of her looks and hygiene, poor. Eventually the Kappas and Anellia come to a violent parting of the ways. Next, Anellia has a depressingly anhedonic affair with a black philosophy graduate student, Vernor Matheius. Vernor is trying to hold himself aloof from the civil rights struggle making the evening news, yet necessarily becomes drawn in. In the final section, Anellia, living in Vermont and working on her first book, goes to Utah to be with her father on his deathbed. Oates's fans will be pleased by the usual care with which she goes about constructing the psychology of Anellia and Vernor, but may find Anellia too narrow and stifling a spirit, limiting the larger gestures and bravura flashes of gothicism at which Oates excels.(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
Oates's prose is nothing if not consistent, offering a steady ebb and flow of emotion vs. action in any given situation. With that said, her newest effort, written on the heels of her first YA book (Big Mouth & Ugly Girl), feels a bit formulaic. The story is about a nameless girl, pathetic and greasy, who has obsessive tendencies, especially when it comes to interacting with other people. For the first 100 or so pages, Oates does nothing but characterization, building the back story of this girl so that her actions in the following sections make sense. A noble goal yet also an unnecessary one, as instead of fleshing out both plot and characters, her extreme focus on the latter leaves the reader bored. Even the love story between this girl and an African American grad student seems boring, a far cry from the intense sexual energy present in Oates's other works. The author's obsession with both upstate New York in the 1950s and young, pathetic 19 to 20 year olds is getting repetitive. Not an essential purchase, although there will be a high demand. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/02.]-Rachel Collins, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Oates's 30th full-length novel is one of her most bizarre and unsettling: a monotonous, only intermittently dramatic exploration of a "brilliant" young woman's quest for certainty and human connection, undertaken at a fictional university during the just-beginning-to-be-turbulent early '60s. We never learn her real name. But we are given detailed glimpses into the self-punishing psyche of an upstate New York scholarship student from a fairly dysfunctional German-American farm family. In the story's brooding opening section, pointedly titled "The Penitent," the girl's longings for the mother she never knew and the sister she never had impel her to seek, then throw away, membership in a prestigious sorority. Little happens in these early chapters, which are portentously adorned with quotations expressing such arcana as Spinoza's theories about the links between knowledge and moral action. There's even less narrative in "The Negro-Lover," a laborious account of "Anellia's" (for this is the fictional name she gives herself) obsessive relationship with black philosophy student Vernor Mathieus, another of those soulless intellectuals who keep popping up in Oates's novels in order to confuse the women who unaccountably adore them. The final section, "The Way Out," contains more promising material: Anellia's discovery that her vagrant father, long presumed dead, is in fact clinging to life, though dying of cancer, in Utah. She dutifully arrives there, to be informed by the "hunchbacked little doll-woman" who cares for him that she may speak to her father but is not permitted to look at him. Alas, Oates never develops this situation, and the novel trails off into an inconclusiveness that is momentarily vitiated by a surprising final sentence that suggests the otherwise unspecified character of the unnamed protagonist's "narrative." One senses that Oates is working through deeply personal material here. I'll Take You There may in fact hold important clues to the autobiographical impulses that appear partially to generate and shape her fiction-but it isn't much of a novel.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.