Joyce Carol Oates Shines With New Novel

Little Bird of Heaven, Joyce Carol Oates' 37th novel, is an American writer's communion with Crime and Punishment. But neither crime nor punishment serves as a triumph and a release on a scale — and with the intensity — we have come to expect from one of our premier writers.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Writers such as Stephen King, James Patterson and Joyce Carol Oates are all part of the 30 and still going club. Okay, we made that up, but these are people who've produced more than 30 novels. We've made it up for the sake of introducing the latest novel by the very prolific Joyce Carol Oates.

Alan Cheuse has this review of "Little Bird of Heaven."

ALAN CHEUSE: The title, "Little Bird of Heaven," comes from a country song written and often performed by an upstate New York woman named Zoe Kruller. I see the book less as country music than an American writer's communion with Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment." The crime here: The brutal murder of Zoe by person or persons unknown.

Though great suspicion falls on a man named Eddie Diehl, the father of slim, blonde, fair to middling high school athlete Krista Diehl, one of the two main characters. The punishment - the agonizing adolescence of Krista. She's separated from her father after he's picked up for the murder. Though he's released, he remains under suspicion by the locals. Krista is never released from the trauma of a daughter separated from her father.

The book's other main character is the slightly older sharp-featured, dark-complected Aaron Kruller, son of the murdered Zoe and her auto mechanic husband. The back and forth between Krista and Aaron, these two children of anguished and tumultuous families is just as powerful as that between Krista and her father. If you're the kind of reader who reads for suspense and suspense only, warning: Here comes a spoiler.

When Krista and Aaron finally get together in an upstate motel, their room is crowded with ghosts and a multiplicity of Oates' motifs about love and violence, sex and obsession. Neither crime, nor punishment, the ultimately coupling in the novel serves as a triumph and a release on a scale and with the intensity, we've come to expect from one of our country's premier writers.

SIEGEL: The new novel by Joyce Carol Oates is called "Little Bird of Heaven." Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse.

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