Monday, June 3, 2013

The Accursed, Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is one of my favorite authors. She has this ability to stretch the ideas of femininity within her protagonists that I truly admire (see Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang and A Fair Maiden). She braves waters in terms of subject matter that the status quo either gloss over or completely ignore. This newest of her works is not only a fresh ground for the author, but my first of her historical novels.

This paranormal novel set within the town of Princeton, New Jersey, specifically during Woodrow Wilson's term as president of the University, is not for the faint of heart. DO NOT, dear reader, pick this up if you're idea of paranormal reading is Laurell K. Hamilton. This is a nod to the truest of gothic literature, ie HP Lovecraft and Ann Radcliffe. It moves at a slow pace, luxuriating in the historical detailing of family legacies and Princeton. A dreaded curse is making its way through the elite families at the heart of Princeton, resulting in runaway brides, bloody murders, and mass hysteria!

Don't get bogged down by the pacing(those of you who will read this novel can giggle at my little pun later). The novel is satisfying in its wholeness as the pieces of the curse and the effects it's having on the carefully crafted community come together. It's not the height of suspense, but a methodical, gothic nightmare.

My only trouble with this book was the time it spent with Upton Sinclair, so deeply embroiled in his Socialist agenda that it sometimes took away from the fearful atmosphere the rich of Princeton were experiencing. Having said that though, his subplot helps to illuminate the growing political and social changes happening in the years represented by this VERY fictitious novel. Indeed, it led to a very interesting 'sexual politics' reading of the curses' onset within the community. SPOILERS FOLLOW: Did anyone else just start to assume that all of the talk about "the unspeakable" and Miss Slade's seduction were just turn of the century fear of rape/women's sexual awareness? However, any attempts to interpret the fantastical as anything otherwise are for naught, as the novel progresses to it's unbelievable ending!

It was certainly a fun novel, with the characteristic fearlessness both in subject and styling of so many wonderful Oates novels! Oates mixes the narration with diary entries, heightening the depth of the plot and its characters. She doesn't leave out classism, sexism, or racism as the issues of the era. I'm quite interested to see what others make of this novel, as so many of the fantastical and historical elements may appeal to such a range of readers!

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