With "My Heart Laid Bare," Joyce Carol Oates builds on her reputation as one of the most inventive and alluring writers at work today. This time, she's in her historical mode, covering the nefarious doings of the Licht clan, whose elaborate con schemes stretch back to Colonial days when an ancestress was transported to America during a shady career that included similar activities. Lead by patriarch Abraham, the early 20th century Lichts appear be masters of the carefully-planned, high-stakes swindle when an act of violence begins the unraveling of not only the way of life they call The Game, but of the family itself. The disintegration of a family is a theme Oates has explored before ("We Were the Mullvaneys") but this new book is full of surprises. She draws the reader into an alluring tale, full of adventure, romance, and creative schemes, with the underpinnings of great sadness. The reader is left disturbed and unsure whether "My Heart Laid Bare" is a romp or something more serious trying to trick us, Licht-style, into not paying the attention we should. The book gets off to a tangled start, but readers are advised to stick with it. You'll get the picture soon enough, and join the Lichts on their compelling and unsettling path.
A book to be savored, this work struck a rare chord with me, the dilemma between not wanting it to end, yet being unable to put it down. Oates brings these characters to life. The language is lyrical and melodious, a savory delight of armchair escapism, yet so much more. I was engrossed in this book from the opening line and riveted to the very end. The ultimate dysfunctional family, run by a tyrannical and corrupt patriarch during the Gilded Age with just enough supernatural twists to make it the perfect candlelight read for snuggling under the covers while the wicked winds blow under ominous skies!
This was a quick yet detailed and, most importantly, FUN book to read. Take the Brady Bunch, make them top-notch con artists, throw 'em back another 100 years and you've got Licht family. What a strange crew, but it's such fun to read how each sibling slowly distances him/herself in his/her own unique way from Father and 'The Game'. Forget the romancy title and cover, this is not a Fabio book. Great character development. A must read!
I am an avid fan of Joyce Carol Oates. Though she excels at tales of the macabre, I enjoy her delves into history most. The Licht family was amazing and the story was magnificently woven in typical Oates fashion. I keep collecting her books and can't decide which to read next.