(1938- ) US writer whose many novels and stories constitute an analysis of and panoramic perspective on the American Dream; she has more than once been likened to Honoré de Balzac, whose feverish productivity she has more than matched (by 1996 she had published at least 65 full-length books); she was given a Bram Stoker Award in 1994. Her work is exceedingly various, and touches on many genres, though even her most Gothic tales tend to offer nonfantastic explanations for the extremities they depict. Neither Wonderland (1971) nor Son of the Morning (1978), for instance, more than hints at the supernatural in dramatizing, in the first instance, a ghastly life haunted by Doubles, and, in the second, an evangelist's career which constitutes a savage Parody of Christ's.
Yet JCO has written Supernatural Fictions of considerable interest. Three of her four large "genre" novels of the 1980s include elements of the fantastic in their omnivorous grasp. Bellefleur (1980), mostly set in the eponymous Edifice, incorporates a Ghost Story, a Cat with Talents, a Shapeshifter and a Vampire into its panoramic array of symbols representative of the self-devouring underside of US life. In A Bloodsmoor Romance (1982), four sisters transgressively explore various byways of 19th-century Gothic fiction, undergoing Metamorphosis, becoming spiritualists (see Spiritualism) and, in one case, changing sex to become a scientist/Magus whose inventions include a time machine; in the end, each of the sisters survives her Rite of Passage, and is whole, though the world they occupy is grotesque. Mysteries of Winterthurn (1984) ironically contrasts the supernatural Horror underlying a series of cases facing the detective Xavier Kilgarvan with the inadequate ratiocinations he brings to bear; in the end, he surrenders to the Gothic world and love comes to him.
Of JCO's later novels, Zombie (1995), which won the 1996 Bram Stoker Best Novel Award, is a Serial-Killer horror tale about a man who tries to create a Zombie without success. Most of her short fiction of interest – much of it constitutes a series of explorations in Weird-Fiction modes – is assembled in Night-Side: Eighteen Tales (coll 1977) and Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque (coll 1994). [JC]
other works: The Poisoned Kiss and Other Stories from the Portuguese (coll 1975); The Bingo Master (in Dark Forces ed Kirby McCauley anth 1980; 1992 chap); Demon and Other Tales (coll 1996 chap).
Joyce Carol Oates