Unlike her thirty-seven other books, the new collection by the iconic Joyce Carol Oates emerged under a shadow: that of her beloved husband Raymond J. Smith, editor of the Ontario Review, and of a marriage that lasted than 40 years.

This week, Oates told Florida reporter Chauncey Mabe that her usually-indomitable writing process had been slowed by the loss quite a bit. “I’m still writing, but it’s much harder. It takes longer,” Oates told Mabe. “I don’t want to sound self-pi.jpgtying. This is very common. Everyone has these experiences. Everyone goes through this when someone close dies.”

By “this” Oates means not simply grief’s emotional quality, but all the ways in which loss disrupts the fabric of a life.  In some ways, she told the New York Times’ Deborah Solomon, “these experiences” add up to a kind of comedy, so black as to be ultraviolet:

Have you thought about writing a memoir?
I wanted to write a memoir about being a widow. It was going to be the opposite of Joan Didion. Hers is beautiful and elegiac. Mine would be filled with all sorts of slapstick, demeaning and humiliating things. Like trash cans whose bottoms are falling out.

Oates’ explanation, even as she denies herself the poetic reach of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, has the quiet poetry that has kept her a Nobel finalist for years.

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