Successful author and famous intellectual Marya Knauer did not always occupy such a secure and comfortable position in life. Her memories of her childhood in Innisfail, New York are by turns romantic and traumatic. The early violent death of her father and abandonment by her mother have left her with a permanent sense of dislocation and loss. After decades apart, Marya becomes determined to find the mother who gave her away. In searching for her past, Marya changes her present life more than she could ever have imagined. Vividly evoking the natural beauty of rural upstate New York, and the complex emotions of a woman artist, Marya: A Life is one of Joyce Carol Oates's most deeply personal and fully-realized novels.
Some formative scenes from the ``life'' of an American writer and scholar: At eight, Marya is deserted by her mother when her father is killed by union strike-breakers. Raised by an uncaring aunt and uncle, she is sexually abused by their son. A young priest, the first of Marya's spiritual mentors, dies. At a high school graduation party given partly to celebrate her winning a college scholarship, three classmates cut off most of her hair. Though she distinguishes herself academically at the university, Marya is betrayed by her only female friend and later suffers the death of her first lover, a professor some 30 years her senior. Her next lover, a married publisher who has introduced her to the literary life of New York, dies as well. It is as if Marya's life is fated to rise from the ashes of everyone she cares for. Yet another rebirth seems slated at book's end, when she receives a letter from her long-lost mother which may ``change'' her life. One doubts it. Regardless of the events described, Marya's character undergoes little revision. From the first, she is a dry-eyed, gritty observer of a world whose degradations are presumably more safely viewed from behind the walls of academe. This latest novel from Oates (Solstice is unrelievedly grim. Literary Guild featured alternate. February 24