Book Review: 'What I Lived For'
The ”I” of the title is Jerome ”Corky” Corcoran, first-person dictator of the novel and a blustering middle-aged Irish wannabe real estate tycoon. Corky is a divorced stepfather of one (a highly unstable twentysomething female), a hard-drinking, hard- loving son of a murdered union-breaking builder, a resident of a fictional city in upstate New York, and a sort of friend to the local politicos. He tries his damnedest to do the right thing but is unsure of what that is — you know, that type of guy. In short, he is an unreliable narrator — and not, after the first 200 pages or so (there are 408 more to go), a terribly seductive voice. In fact, at times he is downright irritating, so much so that you’d like to shut the book in his face. Which is the biggest problem with Oates’ behemoth of a 24th novel. Corky is supposed to be a well-rounded, recognizable character we can all identify with — a man wrestling with love, family relations, a business downturn, alcoholism, prejudice, and other universal difficulties. But what if you can identify with him but still don’t like him? Oates is a highly skilled storyteller, and her Corky is a fully realized character, but he is the core of her story, and there are worms in that core. B