There is a fruitful borderland between the novel of character and the psychological thriller, and Joyce Carol Oates has spent much of her amazingly prolific career exploring it. Case studies, unreliable narrations and sudden reversals of fortune have peppered her work since the beginning – from the manic killer of her first novel, The Triumph of the Spider Monkey (1974), and the doomed bystanders of Love, Careless Love, the companion novella now published for the first time and bound up with it, to the battered survivor of My Life as a Rat.
Let us take a moment to contemplate the phenomenon that is Joyce Carol Oates. Now 81, she has produced 58 novels (the first of which appeared in 1964) and a long list of nonfiction titles, including volumes of poetry.
The words pour out of her in a seemingly unstoppable torrent, yet despite this fearsome productivity, her writing is usually superb. My Life as a Rat is Oates at her best — a powerful, uncompromising story that explores racism, misogyny and recent American history.