The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates

The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates
A New York Times Notable Book, 2013

Recently, a friend placed before me a request: please read The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates.  You see, she herself had read this novel and was interested in discussing it with someone, a situation with which I can relate.  So I agreed, despite its plot type residing well outside my typical reading boundary.  And I am so glad that I did.

Set in the year 1905 and in Princeton, New Jersey, the story is ostensibly the work of a historian who has acquired new materials related to the terrible happenings of that year, which involved several prominent families of Princeton.

At this time, much is taking place in the normally tame town of Princeton and its famous university.  Woodrow Wilson, university president, is embroiled in a power struggle with an influential dean, the daughter of one of the oldest Princeton families leaves her groom at the altar for a recently arrived visitor of dubious origin, and ghosts have begun to make their presences known.

Following the storylines of several characters, Ms. Oates crafts an incredibly engaging story, which takes twists and turns that constantly pique the interest of the reader.  What is real?  What is imagined?  And will the reader ever learn which is which?  Along the way, historical personages with ties to Princeton, including Grover Cleveland and Upton Sinclair, make their cameos and reveal aspects of the history of Princeton not well known.

And while at a length of six hundred sixty-nine pages this is not what one would consider a short book, the plot pushes the reader along at a remarkable rate.  An exceptionally novel story, Ms. Oates awes the reader with her imaginative characters and wonderful prose.

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill