A Work to Be Admired
By Joyce Carol Oates
ECCO, $27.99, 667 pages
Joyce Carol Oates is one of the America’s most respected writers. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that her most recent work, The Accursed, is brilliantly crafted. That said, this is not a novel to be taken up lightly.
The Accursed is a gothic novel set in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1905 and 1906. Beyond those bare facts, it is a struggle to describe the plot in which a supposed curse wrecks havoc in Princeton. Oates creates a host of fictional characters who mix with the likes of Woodrow Wilson, Upton Sinclair, Jack London and Samuel Clemens, as well as a vampire, a devil who seems to change his appearance frequently and the ghosts of various departed characters. Furthermore, in an intriguing twist, the “author” and narrator of this “history” is in fact a character in the drama who obsesses over the accuracy of his writing. Finally, this novel plays out over more than 600 pages written in the formal speech appropriate to the times, which is also somewhat laborious to read.
In sum, The Accursed is not a book to read for its entertainment value so much as for its ingeniously conceived and executed craftsmanship.
Reviewed by Annie Peters