I have come to believe the saying that education is wasted on the young. A few months ago, I read Little Bird of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates and though I had come across her works in a literature class at Newcomb College, I remembered nothing about her other than she was (is) a writer. I am embarrassed to say I could not have named a single book she has written. I can’t say why I picked this particular work of hers to try, most likely the cover art (a bird sitting on a wire against a cobalt blue sky). Regardless, I will not forget her name again.
Tell me you could read the opening lines of her novel and not be sucked in.
“The yearning in my heart. This was a long time ago. ‘Can’t go inside with you, Krista. But I promise I won’t drive away until you’re safe indoors.’ “
In these very few sentences, we already know Krista is the protagonist and someone she loves and who loves her (it turns out to be her father) is promising to watch over her until she is inside a house, her home. Yet, too, all of the coming tension is revealed: Why can’t he accompany her? What rift has occurred that this daughter cannot enjoy her father’s company, that he is not welcome in her home.
Besides the compelling hook at the opening, the book holds a treasure trove of imagery:
“…the least noise and sudden movement like a butterfly beating its wings, a hummingbird or just some thistle silk blowing in the wind.”
Even unseemly characters are portrayed with a deft hand:
“… out of the car which was not new … there climbed, like a soft-oozing mollusk squeezing out of its shell, … the deLucca woman.”
Now, with Little Bird of Heaven under my belt, I am compelled to read more of Oates body of work. But oh where to start? She has fifty-seven other books to her credit.