The Rise of Life on Earth
Selected by The New York Times Book Review as one of the most notable books of 1991, Joyce Carol Oates's The Rise of Life on Earth is a memorable portrait of one of the "insulted and injured" of American society. Set in the underside of working-class Detroit of the '60s and '70s, this short, lyric novel sketches Kathleen Hennessy's violent childhood—shattered by a broken home, child-beating, and murder—and follows her into her early adult years as a hospital health-care worker. Overworked, underpaid, and quietly overzealous, Kathleen falls in love with a young doctor, whose exploitation of her sets the course of the remainder of her life, in which her passivity masks a deep fury and secret resolve to take revenge.

The Rise of Life on Earth Details

TitleThe Rise of Life on Earth
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseSep 17th, 1992
PublisherNew Directions
ISBN-139780811212137
Rating
GenreFiction, Literary Fiction, Classics, Literature, American

The Rise of Life on Earth Review

  • Rebecca McNutt
    January 1, 1970
    I loved this book, if not for its plot than for its vivid portrayal of life during the 1960's and 1970's period, which seems nostalgic and far away all at the same time.
  • Timothy Urges
    January 1, 1970
    Secrets make us. 3.5
  • Sebastian Lönnlöv
    January 1, 1970
    En av mina absoluta favoriter av Oates!
  • Toby
    January 1, 1970
    A child survives a brutal attack by her father, the same attack that her little sister died in, an attack precipitated by her mother abandoning the family. The Rise of Life on Earth is a cold, detached and often brutal story of that child's life from recovery in a public hospital through foster care and her early twenties as a nurses aide, a series of events and encounters that shape the person she will be. The matter of fact nature of the description by Oates, a recounting of the correct method A child survives a brutal attack by her father, the same attack that her little sister died in, an attack precipitated by her mother abandoning the family. The Rise of Life on Earth is a cold, detached and often brutal story of that child's life from recovery in a public hospital through foster care and her early twenties as a nurses aide, a series of events and encounters that shape the person she will be. The matter of fact nature of the description by Oates, a recounting of the correct method for sanitising hands on a hospital ward given the same treatment as the early assault for example, serves to heighten the impact, shocking the reader early on and then leaving you wondering what horror can possibly be in store next, but also helps elicit your sympathy for a protagonist who is actually quite the undesirable, to put it mildly. A pretty stunning early work, not even remotely what I expected from my first encounter with an author I'd heard mentioned and praised for years. I'm not sure I'm in any rush to find out how typical this is of her oeuvre though.
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  • Jen Kanke
    January 1, 1970
    When you read this book, remember to breathe. You might forget in the pain, in the worry of it all.
  • Rebecca
    January 1, 1970
    Phenomenal style, story, imagination: typical JCO.JCO gives brutal details of the abuse inflicted on the main character as a child and again as an adult, so vivid you'd think she was there to witness it. Somehow she manages to fully develop this character in less than 150 pages.
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  • Gina
    January 1, 1970
    I first encountered the work of Joyce Carol Oates when I was taking an undergraduate course in Women's Studies in 1974. It was a time of great change for women and the books we read in that class opened up my eyes. We read Simone de Beauvoir, Fay Weldon, Betty Friedan and Doris Lessing, among others but the ones that affected me most were Oates' stories and novels. The immediacy, violence and passion were unlike anything I had ever read and her characters truly breathed on the pages. Terrible th I first encountered the work of Joyce Carol Oates when I was taking an undergraduate course in Women's Studies in 1974. It was a time of great change for women and the books we read in that class opened up my eyes. We read Simone de Beauvoir, Fay Weldon, Betty Friedan and Doris Lessing, among others but the ones that affected me most were Oates' stories and novels. The immediacy, violence and passion were unlike anything I had ever read and her characters truly breathed on the pages. Terrible things they did happen could happen did happen to them, didn't they? This question is intentionally written that way, for that is how her writing is - shocking maybe not there surely there. It was the first time I had read something with a stream of conciousness in it and I was hooked for the next fourty years. Every time a new book or collection of hers would come out, I was thrilled couldn't wait to read it devoured it and though I have certainly not read all of her work, I still have that initial enthusiasm and wonder each time I pick up something of hers that I haven't read. So... "The Rise of Life on Earth". Gulp... As visceral as ever, she pulled me into Chicago of the late 60's. Madmen indeed. The book is not a very long one but as you may have surmised, it is certainly an intense one that will make you very uncomfortable. There is no doubt about that. In fact, I actually was so horrified by the events at the end that I couldn't read it. I literally COULD NOT. My eyes jumped all over the pages because I could not take in more than a few disjointed phrases at a time. I would put it down and go back to it a few hours later and do the same thing but maybe read slightly different phrases. I know I did not read the whole thing and I know I never will. But I got the gist of it and that is more than enough. Oates created a character born of abuse and I still want to know where the evil begins, when it begins. This is what is quietly crawling out from under the rock. Although I feel empathy for the abused child, I cannot reconcile the evil and agony that abide in the young woman. She believes in God she does she doesn't. What we know for sure, is that growing up in this America of Joyce Carol Oates' book, is hazardous to your health.I love the cover painting, "Morning in a City"(1944) by Edward Hopper, which evokes the solitary disconnect which is ever-present in the book.Some of my favourite writing is: - the fatty creases of the belly and thighs prematurely wattling though she was young - still young: YOUNG! - waiting for her life... (80)...so long as she did not resist she would not be hurt or insulted, or rarely so... (81)...For it seemed logical to her that God showered His gifts, say, upon a certain group of human beings as a flood of sunshine might move upon them thus if you were in the midst of the blessed His blessing might soon strike you too wasn't that logical? - wasn't that His way? - so Kathleen tried to choose her companions carefully... (92)He said, "It's weird isn't it - everybody wanting to live. You see it in others, the desperation, the terror, it's so self-evidently comical, all these people, too many people... but in yourself, either you can't see it or you won't." And he began to laugh. (100)...the meek and the lame and the halt and the blind and they that hunger after righteousness and shall inherit not the Earth but mere dirt shoveled into their mouths. (106)
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  • Pamela Scott
    January 1, 1970
    JCO uses a somewhat cold, distant narrator for The Rise of Life on Earth. Kathleen’s tragic tale is told in a neutral, almost chilling voice. The narration reminded me of someone just repeating facts without letting feelings get in the way. I’ve not really read any fiction where the narrator is so distant from the chapters and doesn’t attempt to create any emotion. It reminded me a little of American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. I expected the detached narration to create a lack of emotion but t JCO uses a somewhat cold, distant narrator for The Rise of Life on Earth. Kathleen’s tragic tale is told in a neutral, almost chilling voice. The narration reminded me of someone just repeating facts without letting feelings get in the way. I’ve not really read any fiction where the narrator is so distant from the chapters and doesn’t attempt to create any emotion. It reminded me a little of American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. I expected the detached narration to create a lack of emotion but that’s not the case. The emotion is still there. If anything, the detached narrator heightens the impact.The Rise of Life on Earth is one of JCO’s earliest works. At just over 130 pages I classify it as a novella. I read it in one sitting in less than an hour. JCO packs a punch in such a short space of time. The Rise of Life on Earth is an example why JCO is one of my favourite writer’s. When she’s good she’s really fucking good.I was moved by Kathleen’s plight and the tragic path her life took. JCO has you on her side from the start. The shocking opening of The Rise of Life on Earth deals with Kathleen surviving a brutal beaten at the hands of her drunken father. These events are even more shocking because of the distant narrator JCO uses. The narrator describes awful, bloody violence as if they were sharing a recipe for chocolate chip cookies. The shocking opening of The Rise of Life on Earth concludes with Kathleen murdering her own sister to shut her up while their father smashes the house up in a drunken rage. When Kathleen repeatedly smashes her sister’s head on the floor I was hooked. I felt pity for Kathleen despite what she did to her sister. I felt she wasn’t really responsible for what happened.JCO is able to elicit sympathy for Kathleen all the way through The Rise of Life on Earth. She is tragic figure. She survives a terrible experience but is marked her father’s actions forever. There is sense of hopelessness about her, a feeling that things just aren’t going to end well. I usually hate fiction where you know it’s all going to come to a tragic end. This sense of doom and gloom wouldn’t work in a full length novel but works just fine for a novella.The ending of The Rise of Life on Earth packs as much of a punch as the opening. Kathleen is pregnant and has been abandoned by her lover. She takes drastic action to rid herself of the problem. I felt sick to my stomach. JCO points out Kathleen’s bleak future from this shocking moment in a few lines that left me stunned.I thought The Rise of Life on Earth was great. JCO’s talent as a writer shines in this short, stunning piece of writing. The sense of gloom that resonates throughout would not work with a full length novel but works perfect in a short novella. Kathleen reminded me a lot of M.R in Mudwoman that I finished a few days ago.
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  • Granuaille
    January 1, 1970
    I read this on Christmas morning. It was horrible.The book is full of violence - I skipped many pages - which is unusual for me.I do not believe that the characters are well developed. I do not see how the protagonist loves the doctor - there is no suggestion of love at all - instead it is a warped dependency. I do not find the plot credible and have no empathy for any character.I only finished the book as it was so short and I hoped that there would be some good at the end - but this was not th I read this on Christmas morning. It was horrible.The book is full of violence - I skipped many pages - which is unusual for me.I do not believe that the characters are well developed. I do not see how the protagonist loves the doctor - there is no suggestion of love at all - instead it is a warped dependency. I do not find the plot credible and have no empathy for any character.I only finished the book as it was so short and I hoped that there would be some good at the end - but this was not the case.
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  • Jane from B.C.
    January 1, 1970
    A horrifying short novel tells the story of a marginalized "invisible" young woman, Kathleen Hennessy. It is chilling…especially that final chapter.
  • Zoey
    January 1, 1970
    I read this book in one sitting. Intense, painful, captivating reading... five stars
  • Rita
    January 1, 1970
    Be careful how you treat people; because you're privileged in some way or many ways, doesn't mean you're invincible or invisible or somehow above treating your fellow animals decently. That's the message to be taken away from this fictional account of a young girl who is cruelly treated, who grows up to be a young woman treated dismissively by some, cruelly by others, just because she was never cherished and loved unconditionally. Her deeply buried rage and resentment find an out in her occupati Be careful how you treat people; because you're privileged in some way or many ways, doesn't mean you're invincible or invisible or somehow above treating your fellow animals decently. That's the message to be taken away from this fictional account of a young girl who is cruelly treated, who grows up to be a young woman treated dismissively by some, cruelly by others, just because she was never cherished and loved unconditionally. Her deeply buried rage and resentment find an out in her occupation as a health-care worker. Long, rambling, run-on sentences that I suppose are similar to the jumble of thoughts running through Kathleen's head.
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  • Raymond Hutson
    January 1, 1970
    Published in 1991. Close 3rd person account of an emotionally damaged, and perhaps intellectually challenged young woman. Reads more like a prose-poem with long complex sentences, deliberate exclusion of punctuation, much of it train-of-thought and often quite visceral. Unlike much of her work written with conventional syntax, this book isn't for everyone. As an author I found it a useful exercise to expand the flexibility of my own writing.
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  • Kacie England
    January 1, 1970
    I stan anything written by my girl JCO, but this one was emotionally difficult for me to read. And I know that’s most definitely what she intended. This novella is a true testament to suffering and abuse, and most importantly, what happens when sadistic abuse isn’t ever addressed. Not for the faint of heart, like most of Oates more compelling works.
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  • Candice
    January 1, 1970
    Quintessential JCO. Love.
  • Linda Lipko
    January 1, 1970
    This powerful tale of neglect and abuse lasting throughout the life of Kathleen Hennessy is told with a methodical, detached voice by the author. Pulling the reader into the tragic life of an everyday hard-working. overlooked and pathetic like person, we see the emotional scars that prevail and lurk beneath the surface to erupt in random acts of revenge.Yet another dark tale by Joyce Carol Oates, still, worth the read because of the deep knowledge and psychological depiction of the down trodden This powerful tale of neglect and abuse lasting throughout the life of Kathleen Hennessy is told with a methodical, detached voice by the author. Pulling the reader into the tragic life of an everyday hard-working. overlooked and pathetic like person, we see the emotional scars that prevail and lurk beneath the surface to erupt in random acts of revenge.Yet another dark tale by Joyce Carol Oates, still, worth the read because of the deep knowledge and psychological depiction of the down trodden.While some of the pages were difficult to read because of the vivid descriptions of violent abuse, still, I would recommend reading this one.
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  • Bruce Reid
    January 1, 1970
    Novella length is about perfect for Oates; she can pack more ideas in than the bitter sting of her short stories allow, but the unrelieved misery and misanthropy don't have quite enough space to overwhelm. Though at 135 pages this may have the highest disturbing-sexual-imagery-to-page-count ratio of any of her works, and the last chapter is as grueling a read as I know. An autopsy of the "terrible secret strength of those whom the human world has made invisible," probably most horrific when it's Novella length is about perfect for Oates; she can pack more ideas in than the bitter sting of her short stories allow, but the unrelieved misery and misanthropy don't have quite enough space to overwhelm. Though at 135 pages this may have the highest disturbing-sexual-imagery-to-page-count ratio of any of her works, and the last chapter is as grueling a read as I know. An autopsy of the "terrible secret strength of those whom the human world has made invisible," probably most horrific when it's at its most sympathetic.
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  • Sherrill Watson
    January 1, 1970
    As an escapist novel, this fails. As a realistic story, I suppose it's a good one.Poor Kathleen Hennessy had a terrible childhood, followed by a prectically non-functioning adulthood. Why she survives, at all, is a wonder. This is a sort-of realistic story about an eleven-year-old who grows into adulthood, to perform a self-inflicted abortion. Didn't they have birth control in 1961???? Did she think the doctor would marry her & they'd live happily ever after? Sorry, it was just "okay" for my As an escapist novel, this fails. As a realistic story, I suppose it's a good one.Poor Kathleen Hennessy had a terrible childhood, followed by a prectically non-functioning adulthood. Why she survives, at all, is a wonder. This is a sort-of realistic story about an eleven-year-old who grows into adulthood, to perform a self-inflicted abortion. Didn't they have birth control in 1961???? Did she think the doctor would marry her & they'd live happily ever after? Sorry, it was just "okay" for my needs.
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  • Mauberley
    January 1, 1970
    'I and the public know/ What all school children learn/ Those to whom evil is done/ Do evil in return.'It passed my test for compelling fiction by causing me to be late for work in order to finish reading it. It is a catalogue of horrors, a shocking portrait of what they once called the 'passive/ aggressive' personality.
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  • Leonard
    January 1, 1970
    This is a short novel by Oates that focuses on a young girl, orphaned, alone, and consistently mistreated by others but remains stoic at her job as a nurse aide until she finds herself pregnant and abandoned. Then she takes matters into her own hand.
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  • Robin
    January 1, 1970
    Here's another Oates book I had to get rid of after i read it. Her writing is good as always, but the subject of this book is almost as monstrous as the one in Zombie! So she got jilted, so what? That's no reason to infect a whole hospital. See if I ever go under the knife.
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  • Fnouristani
    January 1, 1970
    I gave it 5 stars no so much because I really liked it but rather because it was so well written and emotionally heart wrenching..She really brings the character to life ... the story is very distrubing...and the ending is brutal...
  • Barbara
    January 1, 1970
    Very disturbing short novel...packs a powerful punch.
  • Russel
    January 1, 1970
    For... the... Kathleen's [sobbing uncontrollably]. But what the fuck, you know?JCO is high maintenance but she's not a tease.
  • Leah
    January 1, 1970
    An interesting stream-of-consciousness piece that ended with me going, "hmm"
  • Jessica Doyle
    January 1, 1970
    This is an extremely disturbing book but life is disturbing at times. Joyce Carol Oates writes about people in society that no one wants to think about, and I respect her for that.
  • Hari Brandl
    January 1, 1970
    One of JCO's more overwrought books. Lucky it was a quick read, because any linger and I wouldn't finish it. But there's always more.
  • Ed
    January 1, 1970
    Bleak, dyspeptic, and dystopian ("the underside of working-class Detroit in the '60s and '70s"), this is an unmistakable Oates novel. But it is also compelling and gripping.Four stars.
  • Aimee
    January 1, 1970
    Man that was a warm uplifting story NOT
  • Nathalie
    January 1, 1970
    One of my favorite writers! The violence, the injustice, the cruelty of life - it's all in this short book (really a long short story). Not for the faint of heart...but brilliant nonetheless.
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