|A photo of a young Joyce Carol Oates|
by Joyce Carol Oates
You might consider Mayra a Joyce Carol Oates origin story. Mayra, the title character, physically resembles Oates, shares a similar background and has the same experiences as Oates the writer. Within the 1001 Books project, Oates is a huge loser. She starts with four titles in the original edition, and that number is cut to a single title in the first revision. This reduces Oates from a repeat player of some note to a one hit wonder, for the purposes of the list. It also points to the way that many, if not all, authors with multiple titles- certainly all those from the 20th century and beyond- were subject to having their contribution halved.
I'd be inclined to think that Oates was ill served- she is almost certainly an author who deserves more than a single title. It's likely that she is a victim of both being prolific, still writing and not a major literary prize winner. Oates is not going to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, she hasn't won the Pulitzer Prize. She's also written non fiction and short stories throughout her career, and flirted with the career of a public intellectual in the television era.
Like Anagrams by Lorrie Moore, Mayra hasn't aged well, except as it relates to a general up-swell of appreciation for Oates as she ages out of productivity. Most of Mayra exists within the confines of the academic literature of the 1980's. Her plight as a white woman, making her way in academia, has only muted relevance to the polyphonic explosion of viewpoints related to class and gender. At least Oates, unlike Moore, avoids writing from a place of vested privilege.