What I Lived For by: Joyce Carol Oates

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Always Jerome Corcoran would recall how nothing that is has the power to evoke what was.

Jerome Andrew Corcoran, “Corky” is a 43-year-old real estate developer and broker, a city councilman with a future in politics. He is also so much a MAN that you almost have to wonder, have you ever had a mother? Do you even like women? I tried to like him, I tried but it’s hard!  His mother did fall apart after his father’s murder, surely that did something to him. Childhood trauma absolutely molds us in some way. Oates brings her characters alive, down to the disgusting things that go through their mind. With Joyce Carol Oates you have a guarantee the characters she creates are never censored beings. There is nothing diluted in Corky, and he isn’t better for it, no sir… but he is more believable. “He is a man in motion. No sooner gets to one place and loves it then he’s restless and bored and can’t bear to stay another minute.” He is exhausting, intolerable and unapologetically what other men used to believe exemplified manliness. A man who would, to my way of thinking, smell of smoke, whiskey, sweat and the lingering expensive perfume of his last lover. What made him this way, is it the horrific tragedy from his childhood when “God struck swiftly and without warning. No Mercy.” Did something die in him or worse, was some misery born out of the grief? Is it the tragedy of knowing and not knowing what you should know?

Union City, New York is his! Democrat, businessman, popular guy! “Forty-three years old. Not young but anyway not old.”  This Irishman has got plans and time is on his side, he is sure Christina Kavanaugh is his but then he is sure of a lot of things isn’t he, Mr. Cocksure? He’s high and mighty now, nothing of the boy with humble beginnings and the air of tragedy hanging about him. The past is behind him, where it will stay. The women love him, but Thalia, his ex-step daughter with ex-wife Charlotte Drummond (11 years that one lasted) is one female that knows how to play games with him. A young woman of “unpredictable moods”, who leaves a message that she needs help, it’s serious and then nothing. Unreachable. But he can’t think about that, his mind is on Christina and he’s hot for her now! Corky’s not one for thinking about the whys of his own life, ‘he’s not a guy comfortable inside his own head’, and let’s face it, many of us won’t feel comfortable in his head-space either but damn if I wasn’t engaged poking around in there.

He has made it, all I kept thinking is ‘he’s a mover and a shaker’ and of course there is going to be corruption and betrayal in every corner! Power welcomes it. All those smiling people, maybe for all the screwing he is up to it’s Corky being screwed, not the women. In the beginning there is a traffic jam, caused by a young woman’s suicide, strange that yet another tragic death will again be a pivotal moment in his life, just like his father’s murder. He’s middle aged and haunted by his past, he tries to fill himself up on success and sex and women. If you can control everything, than tragedy can’t touch you, right? Neither can age. Is he a pig? Yes and no, maybe he has something redeemable, you have to stick with the novel long enough to find out. How is Thalia tied into all of this, what has she done? What does she know? We all want to be seen as who we profess ourselves to be. The only difference here is we are privy to Corky’s deepest thoughts, to the things that stir him, even shameful desires. We see behind the closed door, when he erupts, hitting his woman. Yeah, like I said, he isn’t exactly the guy you want to love. Women, he knows, you can get away with anything, even the worst things about a man, ‘if they love you, you can’t lose’ and such women will find terrible things sexy, forgivable. It pisses you off, because there are plenty of people who think just this way! Worse, it is sometimes true!

With Thalia, “by Corky’s request she never called him anything other than “Corky”, she was obviously kept at a distance, no ‘daddy’ aspirations, fuzzy father daughter intimacies he can remind her of. The resentment she feels for him as fresh as yesterday, likening him to her grandfather seemingly disinterested herself in all her wealth, the very power and success he needs. He thinks he has her figured out, like all women but maybe it’s she that has him pegged. His hunger, knowing he probably is sexually stirred by her too. Maybe he has tried to remain unaffected, but Thalia is in a bad way, which begs the question, what will he do about it? Who the hell can he trust? All those mighty people rubbing shoulders and the terrible rotten things they do. Will he be a hero? Shouldn’t he, of all people, understand injustice?

All of Oates’ work speaks for itself, even if you find a character repulsive or more human than you want to admit, it can’t be denied she can really get into the mind of anyone she so chooses. While not my favorite, I always find her work meaty.

Publication Date: July 23, 2019

ECCO

HarperCollins

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