Spoiled Children of Divorce

“I.D.” by Joyce Carol Oates

Strongly recommend a story written by Joyce Carol Oates called “I.D.” which I had the good luck to hear her give a reading of in person.  This story was published in The New Yorker magazine.  This is an emotionally wrenching story about a young girl, I think around 13 years old, who is growing up in what I think is probably a pretty common picture of divorce.

The story of the girl, Lisette’s, relationships with both parents, though, is exaggerated (at least I’d like to say that it is) to emphasize the level of denial that children go in to in order to deal with their parents.  Lisette lives with her Mother who works in a casino and dates a lot of guys and is pretty unreliable as a parent.  Her Father, also unreliable, is in the military and seems to have War Fever.  He’s either on his third duty in Iraq or has just completed it.  He has literally beaten his daughter to the point where the nerves in her face have no feeling and she has a permanent tear that drains out of her eye that she keeps wiping away.  She has just completed a third surgery on her face, I guess that parallels her Father’s emotional scars from fighting in War?  The part of the story which explains the title is just too genius so I won’t give the spoiler.

Joyce Carol Oates and Willa Cather were the writers who got me through High School while my parents’ divorce was raging. At the time I remember wondering awestruck how Oates could portray the women characters in her story with so much understanding.  My parents’ divorce opened up all these feelings in all the women I was around like the proverbial can of worms.  It led to way too much enlightenment and shock, the opposite of denial, about how women really feel about their lives. And I was so mesmerized and grateful that Oates was actually putting these things into words.

Oates said that the main theme of the story was to understand how Denial helps as a survival tool.  I think one can see how Denial also hurts, though.  If we were to check back in with the main character, Lisette, in this story at Age 25 I suspect that we might see a person trying to constantly eradicate herself from quick sand which she can’t explain.  Maybe not.  I’m probably just talking about myself.

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