Books Magazine

Broke Heart Blues by Joyce Carol Oates

By Pamelascott

Brando. Dean. John Reddy Heart is right up there among them - at least in the eyes of the residents of Willowsville, New York. The handsome young heart-throb begins his bad-boy career at sixteen, the night that a man is murdered in his mother's house. Was John Reddy protecting her from rape or covering up her crime, or is he actually innocent? It may not matter - the minute the manhunt starts, the second the sensational trial begins, John Reddy Heart is front-page news, celebrated in song, and well on his way to becoming a small town's obsession.

The always inventive Oates has struck upon a truly innovative way to tell this uniquely American story.

***

[There was a time in the Village of Willowsville, New York, population 5,640 eleven miles east of Buffalo, when every girl between the ages of twelve and twenty (and many unacknowledged others besides) was in love with John Reddy Heart]

(Little Brown and Company, 7 December 2000, first published 1999, 512 pages, paperback, bought from Amazon)

***

***

This was my fourth attempt to read Broke Heart Blues. I'm glad I finally waded through it and will never have to look at it again. Note to self: if a book does not capture your interest in three attempted readings leave well enough alone.

Absolutely nothing about this book worked for me.

The POV is really strange. JCO uses 'we' and switches between different characters in a group referred to as the 'Circle', people who were obsessed with John Reddy Heart. The characters are never identified and it all becomes rather pretentious and tedious rather quickly.

I did not find the collective obsession with John Reddy Heart believable. John Reddy Heart was the school heartthrob and becomes a legend when he murders his tart of a mother's lover/business partner. The obsession of the characters borders on ridiculous.

Broke Heart Blues is basically ten different stories about the Circle's obsession with John Reddy Heart, re-told numerous times and repeated years after John Reddy Heart's infamous murders. The characters do not grow up and realise their teenage obsessions are ridiculous but still react the same. Pathetic.

The book starts to get interesting in the middle, but JCO realises we can't have people actually enjoying themselves and switches back to the odd 'we' POV that did not work in the first half of the book. WTF?

Broke Heart Blues Joyce Carol Oates

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