Discovering Joyce Carol Oates


I had never read any books by Joyce Carol Oates despite seeing the name around over the years. The name did not appeal to me, or some other silly reason. I decided to give her latest novel, The Accursed, a try. What a hoot so far! I was drawn into a complex plot right from the first sentence and one third into the book, there is nothing yet to give away how it is going to be resolved. The book involves some sort of mystery that affects a number of people living in Princeton, New Jersey, around 1905.

Some of the characters are fictitious, such as the members of the Slade family, prominent citizens of Princeton. Nineteen-year-old Annabel Slade gets abducted right after her and her bridegroom say their vows in Princeton’s Presbyterian church.

Other characters are important historical figures, such as Woodrow Wilson, who is at the time the story is set the president of Princeton University. He is obsessed by the internal politics of university administration and his conflicts with Andrew West, the dean of the Graduate School. He is also a notorious hypochondriac who uses all sorts of dubious medications to fortify himself. And Upton Sinclair is living in Princeton in an old farmhouse with his first wife, in order to consult some archives at Princeton while he is writing a book. He happens to be a witness to Annabel Slade’s abduction. Another prominent resident of the area is the former American president Grover Cleveland, who dead daughter’s spirit appears to him while a large party is visiting the supposed future home of Annabel Slade to be deeded to her and her future husband upon their marriage.

Given the early talk of spirits in the book, one can suspect that this will be an important part of the mystery at the center of the plot.

I also learned of the Jersey Devil, a legendary monster from the Jersey pine barrens, that the New Jersey Devils hockey team is named after.

4 responses »

  1. The scariest short story I’ve ever read was one of hers – “Where are you going, where have you been?” It’s so surreal.

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