Resisting closure in fiction

As a writer, I’ve always admired Joyce Carol Oates for her prolificness and ability to seamlessly shift through different genres. Reading her short story collection Heat for the first time, I’m truly inspired by her taut, concise writing, by the way her stories start on a mundane note of domestic everyday realities–house hunting, a woman tidying up the home as her daughter plays upstairs, a dinner invitation–and slowly creep under your skin, reaching truly surreal and unexpected places. What I love most is her willingness to end her stories with ambiguity or a moment of suspense, giving them a lifelike quality because after all life is in a constant state of flux and is never truly finished until of course it’s over. Most writers (myself included) feel the urge to tidy up, to end on a note of closure, but Oates is brave enough to resist that urge. What makes it work is that the characters are so fully realized and relatable that by the end of the story we can’t help but project into the future, inventing our own storylines to push them forward past the confines of the story itself.

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