Sunday, July 16, 2017

Review: "A Book of American Martyrs" by Joyce Carol Oates

A Book of American Martyrs, the new novel by Joyce Carol Oates (and her longest if I assume correctly) deals with the subject of abortion, a subject that has been swimming around my head for little bit, in a way that is fictionally interesting even over the span of 736 admittedly bloated pages. It is no secret that Oates is a master of the craft, whose skill is matched by her prolific nature, a rare dynamite combo, but as someone, who has befriended people who hold pro life anti-abortion stances, her rendering of those people in the novel can come across shoddy and one dimensional, but thankfully never insulting. But thankfully Oates makes up for it with two very compelling female characters whose lives are shaped by a violent event at the heart of the book. That event is the murder of Gus Voorhees, an abortion provider by Luther Dunphy, a religious zealot. What opens this book is a rambling account of the event in question, whose violent details are surpassed by its confusing nature. For a story like this, the pieces have to fit together, and throughout the book I didn’t feel they made for a pleasant whole, but by themselves I enjoyed them for what they were, some more than others. I found the look into Luther’s childhood, marked by a confusion toward modern life and a struggle to find a calling in his faith really interesting, as was the look into Gus’ family and the cynical fatalism he instilled in his children, making his death out to be something inevitable. But after the murder and trial the focus shifts to the men’s daughters. Naomi, Gus’ daughter is stricken with anger toward the world and her family, and her detached sections remain the least interesting, especially compared to Dawn, Luther’s daughter, something of a simpleton who finds a way to fight back in the world of boxing. These scenes shows Oates’ in a great way, crafting fights just as authentic and urgent as those of Thom Jones of Craig Davidson. This is a long book, and its length is sometimes not necessarily warranted, but for Oates to produce work like this in such quick spats is impressive and enviable.

Rating: 4/5

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