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Wild Nights!: New Stories

Wild Nights!: New Stories

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Wild Nights!: New Stories

4/5 (12 évaluations)
236 pages
2 heures
Oct 13, 2009


New York Times bestselling author Joyce Carol Oates’ imaginative look at the last days of five giants of American literature, now available in a deluxe paperback edition in Ecco’s The Art of the Story Series.

Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, Samuel Clemens (“Mark Twain”), Henry James, Ernest Hemingway—Joyce Carol Oates evokes each of these American literary icons in this work of prose fiction, poignantly and audaciously reinventing the climactic events of their lives. In subtly nuanced language suggestive of each of these writers, Oates explores the mysterious regions of the unknowable self that is “genius.”

Darkly hilarious, brilliant, and brazen, Wild Nights! is an original and haunting work of the imagination.

Oct 13, 2009

À propos de l'auteur

Joyce Carol Oates is the author of over seventy books encompassing novels, poetry, criticism, story collections, plays, and essays. Her novel Them won the National Book Award in Fiction in 1970. Oates has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for more than three decades and currently holds the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professorship at Princeton University.   

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Wild Nights! - Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates

Wild Nights!

Stories About the Last Days of

Poe, Dickinson, Twain, James,

and Hemingway




Poe Posthumous; or, The Light-House


Grandpa Clemens & Angelfish, 1906

The Master at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, 1914–1916

Papa at Ketchum, 1961



About the Author

Books by Joyce Carol Oates



About the Publisher


Wild Nights—Wild Nights!

Were I with thee

Wild Nights should be

Our luxury!

Futile—the Winds—

To a Heart in port—

Done with the Compass—

Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden—

Ah, the Sea!

Might I but moor—Tonight—

In Thee!



7 October 1849. Ah, waking!—my soul filled with hope! on this, my first on the fabled Light-House at Viña de Mar—I am thrilled to make my first entry into my Diary as agreed upon with my patron Dr. Bertram Shaw. As regularly as I can keep the Diary, I will—that is my vow made to Dr. Shaw, as to myself—tho’ there is no predicting what may happen to a man so entirely alone as I am—one must be clear-minded about this—I may become ill, or worse…

So far I seem to be in very good spirits, and eager to begin my Light-House duties. My soul, long depressed by a multitude of factors, has miraculously revived in this bracing spring air at latitude 33°S, longitude 11°W in the South Pacific Ocean, some two hundred miles west of the rock-bound coast of Chile, north of Valparaíso; at the realization of being—at last, after the smotherings of Philadelphia society, and the mixed reception given to my lectures on the Poetic Principle, in Richmond—thoroughly alone.

May it be noted for the record: after the melancholia of these two years, since the tragic & unexpected death of my beloved wife V., & the accumulated opprobrium of my enemies, not least an admitted excess of debauched behavior on my part, there has been not the slightest diminution of my rational judgment. None!

This fine day, I have much to rejoice in, having climbed to the pinnacle of the tower, with good-hearted Mercury leaping & panting before me; gazing out to sea, shading my dazzled eyes; all but overcome by the majesty of these great spaces, not only the ever-shifting lava-like waters of the great Pacific, but the yet more wondrous sky above, that seems not a singular sky but numerous skies, of numerous astonishing cloud-formations stitched together like skins! Sky, sea, earth: ah, vibrant with life! The lantern (to be lit just before dusk) is of a wondrous size quite unlike any mere domestic lantern I have seen, weighing perhaps 50 pounds. Seeing it, & drawing reverent fingers across it, I am filled with a strange sort of zest, & eager for my duties to begin. How could any of you have doubted me, I protest, to the prim-browed gentlemen of the Philadelphia Society, I will prove you mistaken. Posterity, be my judge!

One man has managed the Light-House at Viña de Mar from time to time in its history, tho’ two is the preferred number, & I am certainly capable of such simple operations & responsibilities as Keeper of the Light entails, I would hope! Thanks to the generosity of Dr. Shaw, I am well outfitted with supplies to last through the upcoming six months, as the Light-House is an impressively sturdy bulwark to withstand virtually all onslaughts of weather in this temperate zone not unlike the waters of the Atlantic east of Cape Hatteras. So long as you return to ‘rescue’ me, before the southern winter begins, I joked with the captain of the Ariel; a burly dark-browed Spaniard who laughed heartily at my wit, replying in heavily accented English he would sail into the waters of Hades itself if the recompense was deemed sufficient; as, given Dr. Shaw’s fortune, it would appear to be.

8 October 1849. This day—my second upon the Light-House—I make my second entry into the Diary with yet more resolution & certainty of purpose than the first. For last night’s sleep, while fitful, owing to the winds that never cease to insinuate themselves into the cracks & crevices of the Light-House, was the most restful in many months. I believe that I have cast off totally the morbid hallucination, or delusion that, on a rain-lashed street in a city not familiar to me, I slipped, fell, cracked my head upon sharp paving stones, and died. (Yes, it is too ludicrous: Mercury barks as if laughing at his master’s fanciful thoughts.)

Yesterday evening, with much enthusiasm, in the waning hours of the lengthy day, my canine companion and I climbed to the great lantern, & proceeded as required; ah! there is indeed wind at this height, that sucked away our breath like invisible harpies, but we withstood the assault; I took great pleasure in striking the first match, & bringing it to the tongue-like wick so soaked in a flammable liquid, it seemed virtually to breathe in the flame from my fingers. Now, that is done. I declare myself Keeper of the Light at Viña de Mar: that all ships be warned of the treacherous rocks of the coast. Laughing then aloud, for sheer nervous happiness; as Mercury barked excitedly, in confirmation.

With this, any phantom doubts I might have entertained of being abandoned to the elements, were put immediately to rest; for I acknowledge, I am one of those individuals of a somewhat fantastical & nervous disposition, who entertains worries where there are none, as my late beloved V. observed of me, yet who does not sufficiently worry of what is. In this, you are not unlike all men, from our esteemed ‘leaders’ downward, V. gently chided. (V. took but fond note of my character, never criticizing it; between us, who were related by cousinly blood as by matrimony, & by a like predilection for the great Gothic works of E. T. A. Hoffmann, Heinrich von Kleist, & Jean Paul Richter, there fluidly passed at all times as if we shared an identical bloodstream a kindred humor & wryness of sympathy undetectable to the crass individuals who surrounded us.)

But—why dwell upon these distracting thoughts, since I am here, & in good health & spirits, eager to begin what posterity will perhaps come to call The Diary of the Fabled Light-House at Viña de Mar, a document to set beside such celebrated investigations into the human psyche as the Meditations of René Descartes, the Pensées of Blaise Pascal, Les rêveries du promeneur solitaire of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, & the sixty-five volumes of Jean Paul Richter.

Except: the Diary will provoke universal curiosity, for its author will not be the accursed E. A. P. who in a brief lifetime accumulated a vast sludge-tide of oppobrium, but: ANONYMOUS.

Now, in an attitude of satisfied repose, I have broken off from my morning’s routine of Plotinus & Jeremias Gotthelf, the one purely investigative, the other for purposes of translation (for the Swiss-born Gothic master Gotthelf is all but unknown in my native country, & who is more capable of rendering his vision into English, than I?), to record these thoughts in the Diary; that never would be thought, in Philadelphia:

Unexpectedly, in my forty-first year, how delighted I am, to at last being helpful to my fellows, however they are strangers to me, & utterly unaware of me except as the Keeper of the Light-House at Viña de Mar; not only to be helpful in this practical way, in aiding the princes of commerce, but to participate in Dr. Shaw’s experiment, in that way providing a helpfulness to scientific knowledge, & simultaneously to fulfill my great yearning, since V.’s death, to be alone. Ah, what pleasure! Plotinus, & Gotthelf; no companion but Mercury; a task so simple, a 10-year-old might execute it; vast sea & sky to peruse as figures of the most fantastical art. To live immersed in society was a terrible error, for one of my temperament. Especially as I have been, since the age of 15, susceptible to cards, & drink, & riotous company. (By my agreement with Dr. Shaw, my debts of some $3,500 were erased as by the flourish of a magician’s wand!) Yet now I am privileged to be alone, in a place of such solitude I have passed hours merely staring out at the ocean, its boundless waters quivering and rippling as with restive thoughts; here indeed is the true kingdom by the sea, I have long yearned for. Dr. Shaw, I am indebted to you, & will not disappoint you, I vow!

9 October 1849. This day—but my third upon the Light-House—I make my entry into the Diary in somewhat mixed spirits. For in the night, which was one of rowdy winds keeping both master & terrier uneasily awake, there came hauntingly to me, as it were mockingly, an echo of alone: strange how I never observed till now how ominous a sound that word possesses: alone. (My beloved V., could she come again into my arms, I would protect her as I had failed to do, in life!) In my lumpy bed I’d half-fancied that there was some perverse design in the stone composition of these funnel-like walls…But no: that is nonsense.

Alone I will hear as music, in the way of the legended Ulalume: that melancholy so sweetly piercing, its effect is that of pain exquisite as ecstasy. Alone I consign to mere shadows, as my perky Mercury has done; & take pleasure in observing the vast domain of the sky, so much more pronounced at sea than on land. Alone I observe the curiosity, remarked upon by the Gothic masters, that nature seems but a willed phenomenon, of the imagination: the sun ascending in the eastern sky; a vision of such beauty, even the crudest of cumulus clouds is transformed. Yet without the Keeper of the Light, which is to say I (eye), could such beauty be revealed, let alone articulated?

I will rejoice in this, the supremacy of I; though the more languid breeze of afternoon smells of brine & somewhat rotted things, from a pebbly shore of the island, I have yet to explore.

15 October 1849. At leisure exploring the Light-House & its environs, with dear, faithful Mercury; the two of us becoming, with the passage of time, somewhat more at home in this strange place. Aboard the Ariel, I was told conflicting histories of the Light-House, and am uncertain which to believe. The predominant claim is that the Light-House at Viña de Mar is of unknown origin: discovered on the rock-bound island as a tower of about half its present size, constructed of rough-hewn rock and mortar, before the era of Spanish dominance. Some believe that the tower is centuries’-old; others, more reasonably, that it must have been constructed by a tribe of Chilean Indians now extinct, who had a knowledge of seafaring.

It is true, the primitive tower yet remains, at the base of the Light-House; beyond twenty feet, the tower is clearly new—tho’ we are talking still of at least a century. This most hazardous stretch of waters west of the coast of Chile, looking as if the treacherous Andes had intruded into the sea, has long been notorious to sailors, I have been told; the need for a light-house is obvious. And yet, such a lofty structure!—you might almost call godly.

(Yet I could wish that such godliness had been tempered by restraint: these circular winding stairs are interminable! Nearly as exhausting, & yet more vertiginous, descending as ascending! Within these few days at Viña de Mar, my leg-calves and thighs are aching, & my neck is stiff from craning to see where I am stepping. Indeed, I have slipped once or twice, & would have fallen to crack my skull if I had not reached out immediately, to seize the railing. Even frisky Mercury pants on these stairs! Initially my count of the stairs was 190, my second was 187; my third, 191; my fourth, I have put off. The tower would appear to be about 200 feet, from the low-water mark to the roof above the great lantern. From the bottom inside the shaft, however, the distance to the summit is beyond 200 feet—for the floor is 20 feet below the surface of the sea, even at low-tide. It seems to me, the hollow interior at the base should have been filled in with solid masonry, of a keeping with the rest of the sturdy tower. Undoubtedly the whole would have been thus rendered more safe:—but what am I thinking? No mere sea, no hurricane, could defeat this solid iron-riveted wall—which, at 50 feet from the high-water mark, is four feet thick at least. The base on which the structure exists appears to be chalk: a curious substance, indeed!)

Well! I take a curious pride in the Light-House, of which I am sole Keeper. I did not linger below-ground, for I have a morbid fear of such dank, confining places, but prefer to tramp about in the open air at the base of the tower. Gazing upward I declared, as if Posterity might be listening: Here is a construction of surpassing ingenuity yet devoid of mystery: for a Light-House is but a structure designed by men for purely commercial, hardly romantic or esoteric purposes. At my heels, Mercury barked excitedly, in a frolicsome sort of echo!

And now, the restless terrier is larking about in the boulders, & on the pebbly shore, where I am not happy he should venture; the poor fox hunter cannot quite fathom, there are no foxes in this lonely place for him to hunt & bring back in triumph to his master.

6 November 1849. No entries in this Diary for some days, for I have slept poorly under the assault of an unnatural floating cloud, or mist, bearing devilish stinging insects from the mainland; an airborne ant of some kind, seemingly crossbred with a spider! Thankfully, a powerful gale-force wind bore upon us, & swept these miniature harpies out to sea! Yet I have worked out my schedule, to record here:

Waking, precisely at dawn

Climbing the stairs to extinguish the lantern

Ablutions, shaving etcetera

Breakfast while reading/note-taking

Exercise, with Mercury; exploration/meditation

Diary entry

Midday meal while reading/note-taking

Afternoon: exploration/reading/note-taking/meditation

Evening meal, while reading/note-taking

Climbing the stairs to light the lantern

Bed & sleep

Ah, you are shaking your head, are you! That this schedule appears to you confining as an imprisonment. But, I assure you, it is not so. I am not a creature like poor Mercury, roused to terrier exuberance & frustration by these balmy spring mornings (November in the southern hemisphere, recall, is April in the northern), as if seeking not merely prey but a mate; I am perfectly at ease with aloneness. As Pascal observed in the 139th Pensée:

…all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.

This Diary shall record whether such a truth is universal; or applies merely to the weak.

15 November 1849. At midday, sighted a ship some miles to the east. Bound for the Strait of Magellan & very likely the great port at Buenos Aires. In the bland waters of day, this ship had no need for the Light-House at Viña de Mar & I felt for the briefest moment a strange sort of outrage. Sail in these waters by night, my friends, & you will not so blithely ignore the Keeper of the Light.

19 November 1849. Waking at dawn, a night of interrupted sleep. While breakfasting (with little appetite, I know not why) continued my painstaking translation of Das Spinne; then, in relief turning to the Enneads of Plotinus, I had strangely neglected in my previous old careless life. (Dr. Shaw has been so generous, allowing me countless books among my more practical provisions; some of these already in my possession but most of the volumes & journals, his.) Plotinus is an ancient whose treatises on cosmology, numerals, the soul, eternal truth & the One are wonderfully matched to me, a pilgrim at the Light-House at Viña de Mar. For I continue to marvel, how at ease I am with aloneness, which I believe I have yet to explore, to its depth.

Plotinus is the very balm for grief, which I feel still, in times of repose, following the death of my darling V. (of a burst vein in her alabaster throat, suffered while singing the exquisite Annie Laurie as I, in a transport of delight, accompanied her on the pianoforte) when I vowed I would remain celibate, & penitent, for the remainder of my unhappy life. As V. dreaded the bestial, which permeates so much of human intercourse, within even the marital bed, I have a like aversion; tho’ I take pleasure in fondling Mercury & stroking his pricked-up ears, I would be revulsed to so intimately touch another human being! For even hand-shaking, one gentleman with another, leaves me repelled. Your hand is very cold, my boy, Dr. Shaw teased, at our parting in Philadelphia harbor, "which the ladies assure me is

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Avis des lecteurs

  • (3/5)
    Imagination in overdrive!
  • (4/5)
    Great writers do not necessarily lead great lives, and the end of their lives can be as miserable as anybody's. "Wild Nights!," the 2008 book of short stories by Joyce Carol Oates, examines the last days of five of the greatest American writers. Although she writes fiction, Oates did her homework and bases her tales on biographical information about the writers.The one possible exception may be "EDickinsonRepliLuxe," a wonderful bit of science fiction in which Oates imagines a future time when anyone with enough money can purchase small robots with the appearance and personalities of famous people from the past. Mr. and Mrs. Krim choose to have a little Emily Dickinson in their home. Is there any other writer whose personality would be less suited to being, in effect, someone's household pet than the reclusive poet? Little Emily, her pockets stuffed with little pieces of paper covered with lines of poetry, tries to keep to herself until Mr. Krim, his wife away, decides to finally get his money's worth. The title of this collection, by the way, comes from a Dickinson poem.The least successful story, "Poe Posthumous; or, The Light-House," takes the form of journal entries written by Poe while living in a lighthouse near the end of his brief life. Oates captures the increasing madness and declining health of the writer, but I didn't find the story very interesting. The three others prove to be gems, however."Grandpa Clemens & Angelfish, 1906" focuses on Mark Twain's late-in-life fascination with pretty girls between the ages of 10 and 16. He called them his Angelfish. In the story, Maddie is the favorite of his Angelfish, with whom he maintains a secret correspondence and conspires to meet in their secret place until he discovers, to his horror, that she has passed her 16th birthday. Then he shuts her off completely, even after the girl's mother, discovering his letters, begs him to write again because Maddie, in her despair, refuses to eat."Papa at Ketchum, 1961" takes us inside Ernest Hemingway's mind as he contemplates suicide. Always vain and selfish, he worries that even with a shotgun he will not do as good a job at it as his father managed with a handgun.The writer who looks the best at the end of his life, at least in these stories, is Henry James in "The Master at St. Bartholomew's." The pompous and privileged writer, who loves being called the Master, chooses to become a servant to English boys wounded in the trenches during the Great War. He volunteers to help at a hospital in London where many of these soldiers are brought. At first he only talks with them or reads to them, but as the burden of so many wounded becomes too much for the strained hospital staff, he takes on less agreeable tasks, including emptying bedpans. Never in his life has he performed such labor. Now he does so willingly and with pride, wishing there was more he could do for these boys.Oates has given us some fine stories about some fine writers. They may be fiction, but you will feel like you know the writers better after reading them.
  • (4/5)
    Joyce Carol Oates has reimagined the final days of five important American authors: Poe, Dickinson, Twain, Henry James and Hemingway. The stories of Twain, James and Hemingway are the ones that stick closer to the historical record, while those of Poe and Dickinson take flight into the fantastic.

    "Poe, Posthomous" imagines that Poe spent his final days not in Baltimore but in an isolated lighthouse off the coast of Chile, hoping that the solitude would allow him to produce an important philosophical treatise. As with most of the stories, Oates mimics the writing style of the author in question, and the story is very reminiscent of those Poe tales where the protagonist succumbs to madness, yet there are several elements, including the setting and the final development, that suggest Oates is channeling not Poe but Lovecraft. "EDickinsonRepiluxe" tells not so much about Emily Dickinson's last days, as of her 21st century resurrection as a sort of robotic family member/pet, purchased by a childless middle-aged couple to fill a void in their lives. Intriguing, but aside from its Twilight Zone-like premise, it felt like a familiar story of middle-age disappointment and estrangement.

    The Twain, James and Hemingway are closer to what you'd expect given these authors final days. Twain is a broken man after the death of his wife and beloved daughter, resentful of the public persona he has to play. He seeks solace in the company of girls, younger than 16, mostly innocent but with somewhat creepy undertones. James volunteers in a veteran's hospital during WWI, where the suffering of young men affects him deeply. Hemingway struggles with his poor mental and physical health as he obsesses over bringing his life to an end. There's an interesting dichotomy between the first two stories, with their fantastic concepts, and the final three, which feel so much more grounded that it's hard to know when the truth ends and Oates' extrapolations begin.
  • (4/5)
    Interesting reading this exercise in virtuosity and speculation--Oates imagines the last days of five American authors--Poe, Dickinson, Mark Twain, Henry James and Hemingway, each written in a style that seems to be that of the author-subject. More interesting is that each story is also about love and sex as well as death.
  • (3/5)
    Joyce Carol Oates and I have an odd relationship—purely literary, of course. Many times her works have left me quite satisfied. Others have been disappointing. I know this is not a so much a reflection of her talent; rather, it is her push (a need?) to publish what seems like a million books in her lifetime. When an author is churning out five books a year, the reader should expect it to be hit-or-miss. Yet, I come back for more. For all the nights I’ve spent awake mulling over lackluster tales, I keep returning in the hopes of stories that will keep make my nights wild with excitement.

    So what book could be more perfect than Wild Nights!, a collection of five stories that tell of the last days of five literary giants—Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Henry James, and Ernest Hemingway? I was captivated with the concept when I first heard of it, and, to date, it is the only Oates book I have read immediately after publication. Yet, through the entire book, I was prepared for disappointment, so that when it came along, I was able to brush it aside and enjoy Wild Nights! for its better qualities.

    Unfortunately, the biggest disappointment is the concept itself. The publishers knew what they were doing by adding the tagline "Stories about the last days of…" It certainly worked on me: I was captivated, even though I have yet to develop an appreciation for Twain and am not the slighest bit familiar with Henry James. Be advised, however, that these five stories are not necessarily depicting "the last days" of the aforementioned authors. They’re not always even depicting the authors themselves. Now that’s disappointing!

    My hope with the Poe story was that it would speculate as to what happened to the influential writer whose death remains a mystery today. Immediately, one sees this is not the case, however, as the tale begins with the day Poe died and carries on for many months afterwards as he performs his duties as sole occupant of a Chilean lighthouse. Not what I had expected, but more than acceptable as it carried a Poe-esque theme and tone throughout its entirity.

    For Dickinson, I had considered a moving tale which pondered the poet’s seclusion, heartache, and obsession with death. Oates, instead, weaves together "EDickinsonRepliLuxe", the story of a 21st-century couple who purchases a mechanical reproduction of the author herself. What does this have to do with the last days of Emily
    Dickinson, or even Dickinson herself, you ask? Absolutely nothing. The android doesn’t even give us much of a glimpse into the author.

    At this point, I had thrown what few expectation I had away. I knew before reading it that the story of Twain would have nothing to do with his birth and death coinciding with Haley’s comet like I had entertained before taking the collection home from the library. It didn’t. And it didn’t have anything to do with his death. This story was however about the author and even took place at a late point in his life, which I guess falls into the vague misnomer of "last days." "Grandpa Clemens & Angelfish, 1906" gives insight into a part of Twain’s life that I had known nothing of. It was equally suspenseful and tender and stood out as the collection’s best.

    Of the authors, Henry James was the only I had read no works of; other than faint name recognition, I knew nothing of him. James’ "last days" peer into his time spent volunteering at a London hospital during World War I. It carried over a certain feeling that the Twain story had in it’s eery sentimentality. This one, however, seemed to carry on a bit too long and by the end, I just wasn’t as interested as I was the first half.

    The final tale regarded Hemingway, the writer whose life ended in the stereotypical author way. Surprisingly at this point in the book, "Papa at Ketchum, 1961" begins immediately with a shotgun pointed to Hemingway’s head. Could this truly be a story about the author’s "last days?" Here again, Oates effectively uses the writer’s style which may be jarring to the reader unfamiliar with Hemingway. (He liked pronouns. He liked them very much. You could say he loved them. Except he loved many things. Like short sentences.) Of course this story wouldn’t fit in to this collection if it just told a straight forth narrative of Hemingway’s death, and so Oates digresses on other paths which I will not reveal.

    If I were unfamiliar with Joyce Carol Oates, I would’ve thrown this book across the room. I would have felt lied to. Disappointed. It’s not what one should expect. Those familiar with Oates, however, probably will expect it. And they’ll equally expect that though this book, like any of Oates’ many books couldn’t possibly be bad, it very likely is not that good, either.
  • (5/5)
    Many readers and writers consider Joyce Carol Oates the first woman of American letters writing today. I have long admired her, but keeping up with her literary output proved a daunting tasks. I have about 100 books by her, yet I only have about half her novels. She averages about five books a year.Oates has gone through quite a few different styles in her writing. In addition to conventional novels and short stories, she has written Gothic Romances and historical fiction. As a child, her father took her to boxing matches, and she wrote a non-fiction book on the “sweet science.” She wrote several novels under the pseudonym, Rosamond Smith, along with poetry, plays, and masses of essays. She won the National Book Award and several Pulitzer nominations. Since 1978, she has taught at Princeton University and is now a Professor in the Humanities with the Program in Creative Writing.Despite all this, Wild Nights! is something completely different. This collection of stories details the last days of Poe, Dickinson, Twain, James, and Hemingway. Poe is particularly interesting because of the way he died. He was found wandering around the streets of Baltimore in a delirious state. He dies a few days later, and Oates takes up his story that day with a journal. Poe finds himself on a strange island. Oates captures the style and voice of the writers she profiles. She begins the day Poe died:“7 October 1849. Ah, waking!—my soul filled with hope! on this, my first day on the fabled Light-House at Viña de Mar—I am thrilled to make my first entry into my Diary as agreed upon with my patron Dr. Bertram Shaw. As regularly as I can keep the Diary, I will—that is my vow made to Dr. Shaw, as to myself—tho’ there is no predicting what may happen to a man so entirely alone as I am--one must be clear-minded about this—I may become ill, or worse…” (3).Dickenson, on the other hand, appears as “EDickensonReplilux, which is a robot programmed to think, act, and even speak like Dickenson. Henry James appears much like the characters in his fiction -- unable to communicate his true feelings. The most chilling story belonged to Hemingway and his last days. Twain’s story tells of his last years collecting young girls under the age of 16 as his “Angelfish.” Nothing untoward happens to any of the girls, but it does have a creepy feeling. Oates has recreated the last days of Papa in Ketchem, Idaho.Wild Nights! by Joyce Carol Oates is an intriguing and absorbing look into the lives of some of the great writers of American Literature. 5 stars.--Jim, 3/17/13
  • (2/5)
    I was really disappointed with this one. Part of it is my fault, because I thought (from the title) that this was a nonfiction book about the listed authors’ final days. Instead it’s a fictional short story collection with Oates’ imagined accounts of their later days. Each of the five stories deals with one author. Poe’s story never seemed very focused to me. Twain’s story was incredibly creepy and I wasn’t a fan. I’m hoping Oates doesn’t believe he was actually like the way she wrote him, because her version of Twain in disturbing. James’ wasn’t bad, but again, there was no real spark. Hemingway’s story was probably the closest to reality and I think that’s why I liked it best. The Emily Dickinson’s section isn’t actually about her at all. It’s about a live mannequin, called an EDickinsonRepliLuxe, that’s created to look and act like her. A husband and wife purchase it so they can interact with her in their own home. This story reminded me so much of Ray Bradbury’s style, particularly his short story “Marionettes, Inc.” from The Illustrated Man. BOTTOM LINE: The whole collection is better in theory than in actuality. Skip it and find a nonfiction account about your favorite authors. 
  • (4/5)
    The subtitle describes it perfectly. I found the stories to be agreeable and occasionally profound speculations, and, for once, all of the stories were of uniformly high quality.
  • (1/5)
    In her heart, I believe Joyce Carol Oates is a Science Fiction writer. However, she made her name outside the genre, so she isn't characterized as such. I finished reading her collection of (long) short stories, Wild Nights!, which is Oates' revisionist telling of the last days of Twain, Poe, Hemingway, James, and Dickinson. To be clear, I believe Oates is an exceptionally talented writer. I also don't care for her very much. She seems, to me, to try a little too hard to shock, and acts as if she discovered mucous just yesterday. So why, you ask, did I give her money? Airport. Flight. Needed book.The Hemingway story is without a doubt the best. Possibly she didn't take the liberties with him that did with the others (Poor Poe! Forced to live out his elder days mated with a sea-creature raising a Cthulu breed, better for him to die in a gutter in Baltimore) because Hemingway's children could sue her. The treatment meted out to the other greats wasn't much of an improvement. I sincerely doubt Dickinson, as a replicant or as herself, would be so ephemeral. And while I understand, from Oates' modernist viewpoint, turning Clemens into a Humbert Humbert, my greatest distaste was left for the writer who twisted history. Ah well. I suppose Oates has her own issues. The writing style is excellent. What she chose to do with it left me feeling slightly unclean. Next time I'll pick up Stephen King.
  • (5/5)
    Amazing, truly creative talent. Joyce Carol Oates is able to be brash and subtle, wild and tame as she imagines the last days of some of our most beloved authors. It is shocking, thought-provoking, and left me with a great deal of curiosity and ambivalence. Overall it is a treatise on accepting out humanity!
  • (5/5)
    This short story collection examines the last days and nights of five prolific American writers, from Poe to Hemingway. Together these five tales describe five eminient writers on the brink of despair and madness that culminates in their deaths. The stories vary in the extent to which they depart from realistic portraits of these authors' deaths. While Oates's treatment of Hemingway's death could conceivably be a factual rendering, those of Poe and Dickinson are far more fanicful, and depart from the historical record. Together, these stories create a riveting and unusual collection. Because the reader knows from the outset that each of these tales ends in death, the narratives flow with significant dramatic tension. From the beginning of each story the reader gets a sense of how each author will meet his or her end. As they move toward this preordained conclusion tension builds for the reader, as he or she discovers just how his or her assumptions will play out. Oates does an excellent job of adopting the voice and persona of each of the writers in question. Each story has its own flavor and style. Hemingway's story reads with the stark prose one might expect from the man, and Poe's narrative reads like a nineteenth-century gothic tale. Overall, this was a very enjoyable read, one that showcases Oates's remarkable versatility, and reaffirms her place as a master of psychological suspense.
  • (5/5)
    Oates reimagines the last days of Poe, Dickinson, Twain, James, and Hemingway in this series of novellas. In each, the sexuality of is examined in the context of his or her dying days. In each, their death is brought about as a result of their own sexual proclivities. Each is depressed and suicidal as their writing skills leave them and it becomes apparent that death is at hand.Each story is disturbing in itself, but representative of the individual author Oates is examining. Poe, left alone with his own imagination to man a lighthouse in the South Seas, goes insane. Dickinson is a manufactuered person, purchased by a rich couple for their own amusements, who, as a result of her poetry, is expected to be sexual, but, being manufactured, is not. Twain dies among the little girls he surrounded himself with in his old age. James cannot help but moon over the WWII soldiers he has volunteered to care for in a British hospital. And Hemingway loses his manhood along with his writing skills and his mind as he tries to figure a way to take his own life.A great book for fans of classic literature and the lives of those who wrote them. For the Oates fan, another example of her diversity and depth as a writer.