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I Lock My Door upon Myself [Paperback]

Joyce Carol Oates
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 100 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reissue edition (15 Oct 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865381089
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865381087
  • Product Dimensions: 20.2 x 13.3 x 0.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,318,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including 'We Were the Mulvaneys', which was an Oprah Book Club Choice, and 'Blonde', which was nominated for the National Book Award. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Princeton University.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delivering Herself 13 Nov 2002
Format:Paperback
Inspired by the fantastic poem by Christina Rossetti, I Lock My Door Upon Myself is a tremendous novella that recounts the life of Edith "Calla" Freilicht from the perspective of her granddaughter. Calla is raised in a small New England community in the early 20th century isolated and detached from her surroundings. She lets others decide the course of her life because she has little interest in the major decisions and is trapped instead inside conundrums of existence: whether life is a dream and if it is who dreams it? Only rarely does she wake from these deep thoughts to reality of the world and the decisions she makes when she does are staunchly opposed to the opinions of society. Her actions though sparse leave her family befuddled for generations so that her granddaughter constantly wonders who Calla really was.
This novella questions strongly the location of narrative. The granddaughter tells the story, but it is not really hers and often it is broken by the voice of Calla herself in Oates' characteristic italicised sections which mark the sharp emotional responses of the characters. There is great attention paid to the way the tale is told as the story of the tale itself. It also explores the repression of women in this time period as well as the inherent racism of America. The central theme of the book holds close to the dilemma of Rossetti's poem asking how the self can be protected from others who it recognises itself as separate from and, more importantly, how can false conceptions of oneself be separated from the physical reality of being. This is an emotional and serious tale that makes you think how we are bound to each other and how we place ourselves in the world.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delivering Herself 7 Nov 2001
By Eric Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Inspired by the fantastic poem by Christina Rossetti, I Lock My Door Upon Myself is a tremendous novella that recounts the life of Edith "Calla" Freilicht from the perspective of her granddaughter. Calla is raised in a small New England community in the early 20th century isolated and detached from her surroundings. She lets others decide the course of her life because she has little interest in the major decisions and is trapped instead inside conundrums of existence: whether life is a dream and if it is who dreams it? Only rarely does she wake from these deep thoughts to reality of the world and the decisions she makes when she does are staunchly opposed to the opinions of society. Her actions though sparse leave her family befuddled for generations so that her granddaughter constantly wonders who Calla really was.
This novella questions strongly the location of narrative. The granddaughter tells the story, but it is not really hers and often it is broken by the voice of Calla herself in Oates' characteristic italicised sections which mark the sharp emotional responses of the characters. There is great attention paid to the way the tale is told as the story of the tale itself. It also explores the repression of women in this time period as well as the inherent racism of America. The central theme of the book holds close to the dilemma of Rossetti's poem asking how the self can be protected from others who it recognises itself as separate from and, more importantly, how can false conceptions of oneself be separated from the physical reality of being. This is an emotional and serious tale that makes you think how we are bound to each other and how we place ourselves in the world.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Mystery Without a Crime 5 Nov 2011
By Vincent Czyz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The novella begins in medias res with a black man and white woman in a rowboat "bucking the choppy waves" as it speeds the two toward Tintern Falls. The narration of this dramatic moment, however, breaks off to recount the life of Edith Honeystone, better known as Calla, from her birth in 1890.
Calla's is "a life split in two but not in half." Rebellious and recalcitrant in her youth, both toward family and toward her in-laws and husband, George Freilicht--whom she had no desire to marry--Calla emerges from a near-death experience to begin 55 years of self-imposed confinement, mostly in a room in the Freilicht household. While the plunge over the falls leaves Calla broken in physical ways, her life is broken on the no less forceful affair with Tyrell Thompson, a black man and a water dowser, who appears one day on the Freilicht farm. The end of the affair and the trauma of hurtling over Tintern Falls mark the end of Calla's willful existence ("I do what I do, what I have done is what I wanted to do") and the beginning of her life as a docile recluse.
The book presents not one but two central mysteries. First, what could bring a pair of lovers to deliberately allow themselves to be carried over Tintern Falls? Second, what makes a woman, particularly one who seems to have an indomitable will, virtually lock herself away for more than two thirds of her life?
The novella, Oates writes in the afterword is "a difficult, even a hazardous form, neither a novel in miniature, nor a pumped-up short story," yet Oates works the form brilliantly. I Lock my Door Upon Myself is intense for the duration of its 101 pages, but it is a complete story; there is no feeling at the end of something missing or left out. Even so, Oates doesn't solve either mystery neatly or explicitly; rather, the reader is left to infer the underlying causes, much as Tyrell Thompson divined the whereabouts of water with his dowsing rod.
The considerable power of the novella rests not so much on the story or the book's structure but upon the voice Oates chose to tell it. Oates breaks numerous rules, writing sentences that cover as much as three-quarters of a page and leaving out commas or even periods in traditional places. The sprawl and verve of these sentences, however, perhaps serves to mirror Calla's unruly energy and disregard for convention. Here's an example from pages 7-8: "Calla's father was often absent (Albert Honeystone: a farmer forced by crop failures and the manipulation of grain markets wholly beyond his control or even his comprehension to sell off his forty acres of rich dark fertile Chautauqua Valley soil in multi-acre parcels until only three acres remained and then he was foreman at a sawmill upriver and then a day laborer for the county, and a drinker of hard mash cider and homemade whiskey throughout), and the Honeystone grandparents were slowed by ailments, dazed and embittered country people with their only conviction a sense of the world veering off at angles inhospitable to their interests No matter how hard you work, God damn bone-aching hard you work so in that household Calla flourished like the hardiest and most practical of weeds, burdock, sunflower taking root in any soil and once rooted impossible to extirpate, such households nourish us in ways we can't know and certainly no outsider could guess."
It is this kind of writing that carries the reader irresistibly along much as the Chautauqua River carried Calla and Tyrell Thompson over the falls.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short, Intense, and Dramatic 30 Aug 2007
By J. Robinson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Joyce Carol Oates was born in 1938 in upstate New York State and is a distinguished Professor of Humanities at Princeton. She gained fame with her first novel With Shuddering Fall in 1964. Now four decades later, she is the author of scores of novels and other works. The present novella from 1990 is somewhere near the chronological middle. I have read a number of her works and set up a Guide to Joyce Carol Oates Listmania list.

Oates is known for her emotional and dramatic stories, often with women caught in stressful situations, and often set in her native upstate New York. The present novel contains those two elements. It is a story set in turn of the century (1900 to 1912 approximately) New York near the towns of Shaheen and Milburn. A young woman, Calla, is married and meets a man on their family farm dowsing for water. I quote from the end of the novel:

"Did you know it was Death that summoned you, a dowsing rod in his hand? Or was it love?"

The work is short and intense, just 98 pages long, and it is narrated by the grand-daughter. The protagonist, Calla, is left orphaned as a teenager and is forced to move in with relatives leaving her parents farm. She lived an unsettled life and marries young. Then we have what followed: a complicated marriage and love story. People in her town thought that she is "touched in the head" but it is more complicated than that.

The story opens with something very dramatic happening at Tinter Falls: two people in a small row boat up river of the falls are speeding down the river towards the falls. As readers, we we do not fully understand what is happening. Then Oates breaks away and re-traces the steps of the story, starting back at the beginning of Calla's life.

This is a dramatic and entertaining story that most Oates fans will love.
6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars over all well written and exciting book. 4 Jan 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I Lock My door Upon Myself is an example of just how upsetting life can be. It is a disturbing book but also one that is exciting and mind boggling to read. I recomend this book to an older group.
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