Acclaimed for her novels and short stories, Joyce Carol Oates is also an unparalleled literary critic whose insights and commentary have graced the pages of such publications as the "New York Review of Books", the "Times Literary Supplement", and the "New York Times Book Review". This new collection brings together some of her most brilliant and provocative pieces, covering a diverse range of subjects and ideas. The rough country is both the treacherous geographical/psychological terrains of the writers she analyses - Flannery O'Connor, Shirley Jackson, Cormac McCarthy, Annie Proulx, and Margaret Atwood among others-and also the emotional terrain of Oates's own life following the unexpected death of her husband, Raymond Smith, after 48 years of marriage. As literature is a traditional solace to the bereft, so writing about literature can be a solace to the bereft as it was to me during the days, weeks, and months when the effort of writing fiction often seemed beyond me, as if belonging to another lifetime when I'd been younger, more resilient and reckless, Oates writes.
Reading and taking notes, especially late at night when I can't sleep, has been the solace, for me, that saying the rosary or reading "The Book of Common Prayer" might be for another. The result of those meditations are the pieces of In Rough Country-balanced and illuminating essays that demonstrate an artist working at the top of her form. As she engages with forebears and contemporaries, Oates provides clues to her own creative process, for prose is a kind of music: music creates 'mood'. What is argued on the surface may be but ripples rising from a deeper, subtextual urgency.