Soul at the White Heat: Inspiration, Obsession and the Writing Life, Joyce Carol Oates, 2016

This is a powerful collection of essays that Oates wrote primarily for the NYRB, the New York Times, and The New Yorker, and reading them provides an extraordinary insight into Oates’ talent as well as information about a number of other writers.  Initial essays on writing and final essays on a movie life of Muhammed Ali and a visit to San Quentin prison round out the work.  It’s a frustrating volume with book reviews that occasionally lapse into the junior high mode of ‘then this happened’ and in several cases go on at great length about writers and works which are minor to say the least.  On the other hand, her essays about Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch, a biography of Dickens by Claire Tomlin, a collection of letters between O’Keeffe and Stieglitz, Simenons (yea!!!!), and the more recent work of Julian Barnes, Martin Amis, Lorrie Moore, Margaret Atwood, Zadie Smith, Lucia Berlin (an especially fine review of a book I have recently read), and Edna O’Brien are marvelous.  It would have been very helpful if each chapter had included the publication and date for the essay; in addition, there were two glaring typos.  Despite its flaws, this is a fine piece of work, the title drawn from an Emily Dickinson poem.