Book Review: 'Black Dahlia and White Rose'

Alan Cheuse reviews Joyce Carol Oates most recent story collection, Black Dahlia and White Rose. Cheuse teaches creative writing at George Mason University.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. The prolific writer Joyce Carol Oates has another new book out. It's her second of the year. In the spring, she published a novel and now a new collection of short fiction, "Black Dahlia and White Rose." That makes for more than 20 collections she's now published, and our own Alan Cheuse finds this batch of stories a big step into darkness.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: If you have trouble - trouble in love, trouble with family, trouble with the law, trouble in your soul - Joyce Carol Oates will have written about it already in one of her many collections of short fiction, or will write about it soon. Her explorations of human loneliness and misery in this new book, "Black Dahlia and White Rose," extend far beyond the psychological, into a style we have to say has become her watermark. Every day gothic I'd call it, which shows off the surprising miseries and few pleasures of the daily life of ordinary people with exaggerated nuance and painful punctuations sometimes physical, sometimes psychological.

As when we read of the young child with the little fish mouth pursed for a quick kiss of daddy's cheek. Or when we meet the young Marilyn Monroe, who appears in the title story of the collection, though it's her roommate, a would-be Hollywood starlet named Betty Short, whom we focus on in a sort of coroner-like study of Short's aching life and horrifying death. And there's a rather accomplished composer who tells the story "Good Samaritan" about a strangely compelling incident out of her early college days.

The other characters - high school girls, American tourists in Rome, husbands trying to make successful second marriages while haunted by the horrors of the first, innocent children at play, prisoners in San Quentin for life, academics trying hard to do good and mostly failing - without Oates to turn her spotlight on them, they would have remained anonymous, even unborn. In her fresh, direct, energetic and often shocking prose, she bestows life wherever she turns, excavating in what first appears to be ordinary ground and discovering that to live means to be in trouble.

SIEGEL: The new story collection from Joyce Carol Oates is called, "Black Dahlia and White Rose." Alan Cheuse is our reviewer. His recent trio of novellas is titled, "Paradise."

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