Last Saturday night, I was reading Joyce Carol Oates’s beautiful novel Little Bird of Heaven. JCO is probably my favorite contemporary author, and whenever I’m reading her books, my mind starts racing with ideas for my own fictive projects at a rate that few of my other favorite authors can match. I also read her books about nine times more quickly than any other books. It seems wrong to put them down, once they are begun.
While I was reading, I made this note on my iPad, a note for a novel that I am in the early stages of writing and whose shape I am still trying to figure out. The idea that this note addresses is not addressed explicitly in Little Bird of Heaven, but it evidently inspired me to think about it. I won’t say anything more for fear of spoiling the plot of LBoH. Here is my note as it appears in Evernote:
THEN! Last night, I went on Twitter and saw these two tweets from Oates:
And I proceeded to lose my mind.
As expected, JCO’s thoughts about this concept are infinitely, spine-tinglingly better than my own.”To underestimate is tragic while to overestimate is only farcical.” Yes. YES.
I am pissed that NYMag only considered Philip Roth and (vaguely) Don DeLillo in their Greatest Living Author feature. The answer is obviously Joyce Carol Oates, with Don a close second.
The neighbors in the big house are moving to Germany, due to the husband’s work. In nearly one and a half years I have yet to speak a word to anyone in this family, I think because they have relegated us to “Cal students,” a class to which we do not even belong. But their move seems important somehow. I will justify my interest in their day-to-day activities as they are visible to me (not that many are), by saying that they seem like fellow audience members at a movie theater. We are all watching the movie that is our westward view, of the San Francisco Bay, but I am distracted by the people in front of me, talking, canoodling, taking a sip of soda, or in the case of these neighbors, dashing around the kitchen table, doing their homework at their desks (three of the residents are boys under 10), which face our building (the urge to innocently spy, at least in one of the boys, seems to be mutual), or, as of today, staying out of the way as a moving crew packs their entire house into a truck. All the windows are open. It’s in the 70s. All I can hear are birds and the sound of tape wrapping around boxes and furniture being swaddled in brown paper.
Our neighbors to the south are moving too, to Sonoma, where they are building a house. A close relative has moved back to New York City after a dozen years in Los Angeles. And my mom, technically moving westward, recently flew to New York City from Cyprus after ten years. She won’t be going back. Last night she relayed simple observations about her time in Manhattan thus far. It’s been more than thirty years since she’s lived there, and several more than that since she’s lived alone. She was excited to discover the Japan Society for the first time, and the brass reliefs of well-known buildings on the sidewalk at 42nd Street and Park Avenue (“I wonder how many people even notice those?”). She is crossing her fingers about an apartment in the 60s, on the East Side. It has an “alcove,” which by Manhattan standards may as well be an extra bedroom, and which she’ll use as a painting studio. What else is remarkable about this apartment? It doesn’t look out onto someone else’s living room, and “I can look out the window and see trees below, and the people coming and going,” a reminder that there are many different ways to live in New York, but those three amenities are a good place to start.