Returning to them was an act of time travel—returning to a lost time and a lost place. Deeply moving, exhilarating.
First edition. Signed on the title page. Them “was the last of an informal trilogy,” Oates writes, “following Expensive People & A Garden of Earthly Delights. A trilogy of ‘young Americans’ coming of age in a turbulent time.” Oates lived in one of the most turbulent places in that turbulent time, Detroit, where (as she goes on to explain), “I was an instructor in the English Dept. at the University of Detroit. My husband Raymond and I lived a few miles away from 8 Mile Rd.” She explains the literary contrivance of her “Author’s Note,” telling us that the letters she received from “Maureen Wendall” were “an imagined account of an imagined encounter. But it is, in other ways, true.” The book beautifully blends the form and technique of the “quintessential family novel” with a biting commentary on the racial powder keg that exploded in 1967 Detroit. In the scene where a policeman shoots at Jules (p.123), Oates writes: “The brutality & racism of Detroit PD would be subsequently revealed, decades later. Such behavior was known anecdotally, but not by most white citizens.” In her notes on the rear flyleaf she explains that “After the cataclysm of the ‘race riot’ – suspension of morality – the conventions of normal life resume. Jules & Maureen learn to play their roles; they take their place in the great drama of their time.” She quotes Melville’s great line to Hawthorne after finishing Moby Dick. “I have written a wicked book, & feel as spotless as the lamb.”
OATES, Joyce Carol (b. 1938). Them. New York: The Vanguard Press, 1969. 8°. Original cloth (spine faded), dust jacket.