#TuesdayBookBlog ‘My Life as a Rat’ by @JoyceCarolOates #BookReview

My Life as a Rat: A Novel by [Oates, Joyce Carol]

I’m a bit behind with my reviews. I’ll be catching up gradually. Today, I’m starting with the last book I’ve read, which is My Life as a Rat by Joyce Carol Oates.

I am ashamed to admit that although I have read some of her poems and posted about one of them here, I had never read any novels by this author. Then a few weeks ago, I read an interview with the author about her new novel, in the Guardian, and my interest was peaked, but when I read the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, I was almost put off. I say almost, because I’m an avid reader, reviewer and writer, and I know how subjective most reviews are.

Some of the negative terms which appeared were, too long, repetitive, slow, disappointed, disorganised, violence, abuse, disturbing. That made me realise it would not be an easy book to read, but I decided I was up for the challenge.

I started reading the book on my Scribd subscription last Friday, and I couldn’t stop until I finished it on Sunday night. It’s hard to introduce other readers to such a brilliant book in a few hundred words, but I’m going to do my best.

Joyce Carol Oates

My Life as a Rat is a heart-rending novel which deals with topics such as, abuse, domestic violence, ignorance, racism and gender inequality.

It presents these topics honestly and brutally, so much so that some people may feel uncomfortable, or even disgusted. Well this isn’t a light romance, this is a raw and harrowing view of a segment of the population. Extrapolating Violet’s town, family and life to every woman in the world would be absurd, even though Violet is not the only girl who has lived or lives so close to so many ignorant and/or evil people.

In spite of everything Violet experiences, I find the novel hopeful because the reader is led to believe there is an implicit answer to the senseless violence, lack of love, gender inequality, racism and ignorance, and that’s Violet’s attitude to adversity: learn the lesson, get up and move on! That is to say she persevers, she tries to do the right thing, she actively searches for a better education, she wishes to accept her responsibility in events, forgive herself and others and repair whatever she can, and especially, she never loses the ability to keep reaching for her dreams.

Violet is a wonderful character who never gives up, she’s bigger than the events she overcomes, because she’s able to move on, keep loving and forgiving, and I think she stands a good chance of finding happiness, perhaps, one day…

A must read for anyone who wants to understand what’s wrong with our society and how we can find ways to heal and be reconciled.


#AtoZChallenge ‘Y’ #NationalPoetryMonth ‘Burning Oak’ by Joyce Carol Oates #amwriting #poem #NaPoWriMo

This year to celebrate National Poetry Month and to take part in the April A-Z Blogging Challenge, I’ll be posting two poems a day, one written by me and another poem written by one of my favourite poets. The title or first word of the  poem, or the author’s name will begin with the corresponding letter in the Blogging Challenge.


Today I offer you Burning Oak by Joyce Carol Oates, which starts and finishes with the word ‘Yesterday‘ and Unhappy Trees by Luccia Gray.


Burning Oak by Joyce Carol Oates


Yesterday, the sky in mute

horizontal swaths, air

almost too thick to breathe.

we found the stump of an old oak, man-


sized, burning without flame

at the edge of a clearning __ splintered wood

raw, bulldozed roots exposed__

even the black ants fled


in the stink of old grief

made pubic and final, old hopes exposed __

past tense! __ now headless leafless a stump

knocked half out of the earth


and the soul just blue smoke vague

and slow-spreading rising without grace

into an indifferent sky no one will paint,

or photograph, or see__

except us: yesterday.


This poem is about disintegration and regret. The narrator describes the death of a tree, which has become a stump. The oak tree is splintered, bulldozed, roots exposed, leafless, and nobody cares, because no one will paint it, photograph it, or even see it, except the narrator and another person, ‘us’, which leads the reader to believe the real subject of the poem is the end of a relationship, viewed some time after the event. More about Joyce Carol Oates here. 


Oates’ poem reminded me of a photograph I took a few days ago of a tree, which had been run over, so I decided to write a poem about this fallen tree, or perhaps it’s about something completely different…



Unhappy Trees


A drunk driver

On his way home

One dark night, hit  

The gloomy tree.

It had wished for

A better place

To grow its roots.

It had longed to

Be surrounded

By earth and grass.

It’s too late now.

They’ll use what’s left

to light camp fires

And tell chilling

Stories about

why drunk drivers

Should beware of

unhappy trees,

Made to grow by

ugly roadsides,

Surrounded by

cement, on their

way home at night.


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