Tag Archives: Joyce Carol Oates

Brigitte Pilote, Motel Lorraine

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Le chapitre qui ouvre ce roman à multiples points de vue nous présente Martin Luther King sortant sur le balcon du Motel Lorraine à Memphis, où il reçoit une balle en plein visage. On pense dès lors que le roman portera sur la vie de Martin Luther King, mais pas vraiment… C’en est bien sûr un point de référence et cet assassinat donne le ton à un questionnement sur le sens de la vie, de l’impact qu’on aura sur le monde.

On rencontre ensuite la jeune Louisiane qui s’est réfugiée chez le photographe Lonzie pour échapper à la vie de misère dans laquelle sa mère a entrainée elle et sa soeur Georgia, en quittant Montréal pour vagabonder aux États-Unis, sans travail à part dire la bonne aventure, les gavant de fast food et négligeant leur éducation.

En arrivant au Motel Lorraine, on leur donne la chambre 306, la chambre maudite où était resté Martin Luther King lors de son dernier séjour, mais cela importe peu à Sonia, la mère. Le roman raconte donc le séjour de la petite famille à Memphis en 1977-78, certaines rencontres fortuites, des revirements de situation, des influences inattendues.

Quelques questions clés:

  • Pourquoi Sonia a-t-elle fui Montréal avec ses filles?
  • Qui est vraiment Georgia?
  • Qu’arrive-t-il entre Louisiane et Lonzie?
  • Qu’adviendra-t-il de la photo que Lonzie a prise de Louisiane?
  • Que deviennent Louisiane et Georgia en dépit de la négligence dont fait preuve leur mère?

Certaines de ces questions trouvent réponses et d’autres, non…

J’ai pensé en lisant ce livre qu’il aurait pu ressembler un peu plus à The Accursed de Joyce Carol Oates… Brigitte Pilote nous dit dans les notes de la fin que “Nous avons créé dans ce roman une Memphis imaginaire, à partir d’éléments topographiques et toponymiques réels et fictifs. On cherchera en vain une représentation fidèle de la ville américain.” Donc, on imagine… C’est bien, on est dans un oeuvre de fiction. Mais je me suis prise à penser que cette imagination est tout de même assez sage, comparée aux envolées fantastiques de Mme Oates. Dans The Accursed, la famille de Woodrow Wilson, dans l’enclave académique privilégiée de Princeton, New Jersey, est victime d’esprits maléfiques, incluant l’enlèvement d’une jeune femme par un démon en plein mariage. Dans le chapitre intitulé “Nuit blanche”, Martin Luther King répond à un coup de fil haineux autour de minuit et peine ensuite à retrouver le sommeil. Il se remémore des évènements qui nourrissent son esprit combatif, mais “L’aboiement d’un chien au loin le fit sursauter. Il lui sembla que sa main gauche s’engourdissait petit à petit, des ongles au poignet.” On pourrait s’imaginer que c’est le signe d’une possession et s’envoler dans le fantastique…

Brigitte n’avait dit que ce roman était bien différent de son premier. Il l’est par le thème et la forme, mais il y a un point commun important. Dans le deux cas, les personnages principaux sont des jeunes filles qui ont un certain sens de qui elles sont et qui ont des aspirations assez claires qui guident leurs gestes. Par contre, dans les Mémoires d’une enfant manquée, la jeune fille évolue dans une communauté qui l’entoure même si elle tente de s’en distinguer. Dans Motel Lorraine, les deux protagonistes souffrent d’un isolement imposé et cherchent à échapper à ce sentiment d’aliénation.

Références

Pilote, Brigitte. Motel Lorraine. Stanké, Montréal, 2013.

Pilote, Brigitte. Mémoires d’une enfant manquée. Stanké, Montréal, 2012

Oates, Joyce Carol. The Accursed. Harper Collins, 2013.

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Joyce Carol Oates, The Accursed

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In 1905-6 in Princeton, New Jersey, a series of strange events and people threaten to change the course of history. As Woodrow Wilson struggles to remain in control as president of Princeton University, a curse descends upon a prominent Princeton family, the Slades. That the family is targeted is not so clear in the beginning… and the event that triggered the curse is revealed only at the very end. Why others are victims of mad attacks remains unexplained.

In addition to an interesting portrait of what life could be imagined to be in early 20th century Princeton, Joyce Carol Oates also provokes some interesting encounters between well-known historical figures, such as Woodrow Wilson, Grover Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt, Mark Twain, Upton Sinclair, and Jack London. She makes an interesting use of names of family members and acquaintances of Woodrow Wilson, but keeps twisting real life events to turn her story into a gothic extravaganza.

One character of particular interest is Mrs. Peck whom Woodrow Wilson encounters while vacationing in Bermuda to restore his health. He was staying in a hotel but got invited to move into her villa where other guests were in attendance, including Mark Twain. Wilson develops a close friendship with Mrs. Peck. In real life, Woodrow Wilson had an amorous relationship with a Mary Peck met under similar circumstances, and kept this relationship for more of his life. This may have been the matter of scandal, except the relationship was rumored to have remained platonic. In the Joyce Carol Oates novel, Mrs. Peck is called Cybella, and reveals herself to be a European noble, a countess, later married to a count and therefore twice a countess, but also an angel sent by God to protect him. She reveals this last piece of information about herself when she comes to meet him in Princeton and they are sitting down in a park to have a serious discussion. When he reflects on the situation and hesitates in his response to her, she disappears and he finds himself alone in the park.

This is just one example of a “spirit” or non-human being intervening in the story. Some seem to be more of the vampire type, but there were also ghosts. That is interesting… Gothic stories often include the intervention of other-worldly beings. But others often end with an explanation of how strange manifestations were really not the work of “spirits” (this is the case with The Mysteries of Udolpho).

The narrator of this book is an historian whose father commits one of the unexplained crazy actions in the book. He is often silent but sometimes quite vocal and visible as the historian who attempts to elucidate the origins and workings of the curse that affects the Slade family and others connected to it. He claims to use as his sources a variety of materials, many of them diaries and notebooks written by the main characters in his story. Some of these documents are more or less credible, often ignored by others or forgotten in archives for a long time. Or, in one particular case, written in code.

I have read quite a few books in recent years where the narrator is a historian, sociology or anthropologist writing based on historical documents or from original research to explain a situation and tell a story. Quite a popular device with authors, it seems.

All in all, Joyce Carol Oates’ book was quite an enjoyable read and I am certainly looking forward to reading more of her books. From my perusal of the web, I get that she is quite eclectic and that I can expect very different things from her other works.

By the way, the NY Times review of this book, by Stephen King, is wildly entertaining.

 

Links to information about Woodrow Wilson:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/woodrowwilson

http://zenithcity.com/zenith-city-history-archives/biography/hulbert-mary/

 

Links to reviews of The Accursed:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/books/review/the-accursed-by-joyce-carol-oates.html?_r=0

http://www.npr.org/2013/03/06/172876228/the-devil-to-pay-in-oates-accursed-america

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/fictionreviews/9927499/The-Accursed-by-Joyce-Carol-Oates-review.html

Discovering Joyce Carol Oates

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I had never read any books by Joyce Carol Oates despite seeing the name around over the years. The name did not appeal to me, or some other silly reason. I decided to give her latest novel, The Accursed, a try. What a hoot so far! I was drawn into a complex plot right from the first sentence and one third into the book, there is nothing yet to give away how it is going to be resolved. The book involves some sort of mystery that affects a number of people living in Princeton, New Jersey, around 1905.

Some of the characters are fictitious, such as the members of the Slade family, prominent citizens of Princeton. Nineteen-year-old Annabel Slade gets abducted right after her and her bridegroom say their vows in Princeton’s Presbyterian church.

Other characters are important historical figures, such as Woodrow Wilson, who is at the time the story is set the president of Princeton University. He is obsessed by the internal politics of university administration and his conflicts with Andrew West, the dean of the Graduate School. He is also a notorious hypochondriac who uses all sorts of dubious medications to fortify himself. And Upton Sinclair is living in Princeton in an old farmhouse with his first wife, in order to consult some archives at Princeton while he is writing a book. He happens to be a witness to Annabel Slade’s abduction. Another prominent resident of the area is the former American president Grover Cleveland, who dead daughter’s spirit appears to him while a large party is visiting the supposed future home of Annabel Slade to be deeded to her and her future husband upon their marriage.

Given the early talk of spirits in the book, one can suspect that this will be an important part of the mystery at the center of the plot.

I also learned of the Jersey Devil, a legendary monster from the Jersey pine barrens, that the New Jersey Devils hockey team is named after.