Thursday, June 5, 2014

Carthage - Joyce Carol Oates

At some time in the distant past I read a book by this prolific author and decided I didn't like her writing.
This was on the "Best Picks" list at the library so I decided to give her a try.

Carthage is a small town in upstate New York where Cressida (I know, weird name, I'm still not sure how to pronounce it) is the younger of two daughters of a successful business man and past town mayor.  She's different; difficult, doesn't meet your eye when talking, bright, sarcastic and brittle.  Her older sister Juliet is sweet and pretty and engaged to a poor, but handsome football hero, Brett.  He decides to join the army after 9/11 and comes back from Iraq with a damaged and scarred face and traumatic memories.  When the engagement is called off and Cressida goes missing, Brett is accused of her murder.

The story tells how the tragedy of one person can ripple in the lives of others.  Brett's inability to cope with civilian life, Juliet's heartbreak over losing her fiance and her sister, the parents altered relationship when their daughter is not found. There's parallels to Shakespeare's King Lear.
(spoiler alert)
The twist, about two-thirds through the book, is that Cressida didn't die.  She was found by a kind hearted blustering woman who thinks she been abused and spirits her off to Florida.  Years pass before Cressida is prodded by circumstances to return to her hometown and the broken lives she caused.

I think the ending reminded me why I didn't like whatever early book I'd read by Oates.  I felt the story was left dangling, issues not answered and left to the reader's imagination.  Reviewers have said it portrays the burden of guilt and loss and the impact of making judgments.  That it does well and like real life, those emotions are never fully resolved.

Published:  2014  Read: June 2014  Genre: Fiction

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