...a welcome treat from the iconic American writer ... Soul at the White Heat proves itself to be a kind of roadmap to the capacious, mercurial Oates. The collection compiles previously published cultural criticism, reviews, and personal essays, forming a nuanced portrait of Oates as both author and critic ... This personal piece of journalism not only details the author’s search for her writing subject, but also chronicles a disarming, difficult shock she encounters in the process, one that affects her readers as much as it did her ... Here Oates hungers for close encounters with the stuff of life and refuses to let age or other impediments stand in the way ... Oates’s unguarded and compelling book gives insight into her vulnerabilities and illuminates her vision as a writer. It is as close to a look into her private artistic world as we have had.
Organized into four sections, these pieces reward a reader with the rich pleasure of Oates’ critical thinking. Wasting nothing, missing nothing, Oates gets down to it; her relish feels infectious ... Oates has, it seems, read everything, and her deft, considered wisdom is pure treasure ... Arguably a kind of almanac, arranged to comfortably accommodate skipping around and rereading, Soul at the White Heat (its title taken from an Emily Dickinson poem) is a reference to keep near. Renowned as well as under-acknowledged names take their turns beneath the Oatesian gaze ... Though there’s not space here to cite countless remarkable passages, I will settle for praising the consistent enlightenment and generous companionship of Oates’ critical vision: never sacrificing complexity, relentless, acute, compassionate.
Oates considers the origins of writing in voluminous detail and via every type of critical approach — review, reconsideration, instructional, public address, introduction — just as her scores of other books range exhaustively over genres and forms ... Oates is precise and thorough, erudite and all-encompassing. A substantial part of Soul at the White Heat comprises book reviews of such contemporaries’ work as Coetzee, Lorrie Moore, McMurtry, Erdrich, Atwood. To their appraisal Oates brings to bear every other book she has read, it seems, and that is a lot: there is little in the western canon that has escaped her omnivoracity ... Oates set out to prove that writing is as personal as it gets.