This Eerie Tale Of Psychological Horror Sees The Real Inhabitants Of Turn Of The Century Princeton Fall Under The Influence Of A Supernatural Power New Jersey, 1905 Soon To Be Commander In Chief Woodrow Wilson Is President Of Princeton University On A Nearby Farm, Socialist Author Upton Sinclair, Enjoying The Success Of His Novel The Jungle , Has Taken Up Residence With His Family This Is A Quiet, Bookish Community Elite, Intellectual And Indisputably Privileged But When A Savage Lynching In A Nearby Town Is Hushed Up, A Horrifying Chain Of Events Is Initiated Until It Becomes Apparent That The Families Of Princeton Have Been Beset By A Powerful Curse The Devil Has Come To This Little Town And Not A Soul Will Be Spared The Accursed Marks New Territory For The Masterful Joyce Carol Oates Narrated With Her Unmistakable Psychological Insight, It Combines Beautifully Transporting Historical Detail With Chilling Fantastical Elements To Stunning Effect. I really wish I could have observed that moment when Joyce Carol Oates was like, You know, maybe I ll write a Gothic with demon bridegrooms that brings together Woodrow Wilson and Upton Sinclair Something spooky that also sheds light on turn of the century issues of race and class Oh, and I ll do it from the perspective of a male historian who s the son of one of the characters and thus implicated in the whole story Just, you know, to stretch myself a little It speaks to the nearly freakish level of Oates talent that she could pull this novel off, because it is a ridiculous feat of storytelling and craft That said, this is not a novel for everyone It s nearly 700 pages long, filled with period details and historical notes If you haven t read JCO before, this is perhaps not the place to start No, this is the work of a master who s done the conventional novel, to great acclaim, many times over This novel reminded me of when football legend Deion Sanders did the 40 yard dash backwards at the Combine allegedly at 4 57 because he was simply that good In other words, the most supernatural element here is not the curse or any of the Gothic elements It s Oates talent, which is frightening to behold Maya Lang is the author of The Sixteenth of June She is currently at work on her second novel. While I managed to get through it there were many parts that reminded me of the lonely person all retail public service people have dealt with The one that rambles on about things that have no relevance to the current situation, to you, or to anything important There were many parts like this where I found myself saying get on with it, huffing and wanting to stop reading, but continuing on in the hopes it would get better It did not.The writing was beautiful but disconnected, wondering about, and all in all nothing to keep me wanting to turn the page Usually with a book I have trouble stopping reading it to go do whatever I need to do but with this my problem was the opposite I see what the author tried to do but it did not work I do not need almost a full chapter going into random detail about diaries nor do I need long random bits about why the historian chose to interpret something a certain way or why the other historians did not do it correctly If all that random and irrelevant stuff was taken out it might have been a good book As it was the story kept being rudely interrupted by these snippets I read on hoping eventually the story would develop into something and the snippets would cease but found myself at the last pages of the book still thinking, maybe this next page the story will really start.I have no issue with non fiction history books or academic books but I did not pick this up looking for that kind of read Though it has some paranormal, some is even pushing it, it read like what I d expect from a very old academic journal or non fiction novel I wanted Gothic, supernatural, and or horror I got none of this, only a teasing glimpse at a story that never really got satisfyingly developed. I m a big fan of Joyce Carol Oates, so when I discovered she had a new book out, I was excited I was even happier when I found that it was another volume in the gothic family saga series she started many years ago with Bellefleur , which is one of my favorite books The 660 page length didn t bother me she s an author who, at her best, can fill that many pages with brilliance I greeted the book like it was a big box of candy I m afraid I was disappointed There are a lot of good things in the book an extended patrician family living in Princeton is cursed Voices say bad things to people, ghosts are seen, a shape shifting demon walks among them and leads them into tragedies At the same time, they have to deal with the demons of their everyday life racism, misogyny, classism, the Machiavellian politics of Princeton University I liked having a narrator who only knew the story through the diaries and papers he discovered long after the events took place Half the population of the book are real people Woodrow Wilson is president of Princeton U, Grover Cleveland and his wife are part of the social circle, Upton Sinclair has a large part devoted to him, Jack London, Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain all make appearances But the lessons about society are a little heavy handed, and I m really not sure that some of the historical characters added to the story Upton Sinclair and Jack London didn t seem to be connected to the family and the curse but took up a lot of pages The only way I could see that they added to the story was by showing the reader what the attitudes of people of the time were, but I know enough history that I didn t need that and I m sure there are many other readers like me Oates has written a great story, but every story needs an editor At least a hundred pages could have been cut without the story losing anything and the book would have been much sharper I enjoyed the book, but got impatient with it frequently. This book a pseudo historical, supernatural, mystery horror story is supposedly written by M.W van Dyck, descendant of one of the most prominent families of Princeton, New Jersey Claiming to have access to newly decoded journals and other materials available only to himself van Dyck unspools the story of the Crosswicks Curse that took a horrific toll on some wealthy, influential Princeton families in 1905 and 1906 The first conspicuous manifestation of the curse occurs when pretty, young Annabel Slade absconds from her elaborate wedding immediately after exchanging marriage vows with handsome Lieutenant Dabney Bayard The man she runs off with, Axson Mayte, is in town purportedly advising Woodrow Wilson then President of Princeton University As Annabel s brother Josiah Slade, a Princeton graduate who can t quite seem to find his role in life, relentlessly pursues the runaways Annabel is trapped in a filthy, hidden castle called the Bog Kingdom where she s abused, starved, impregnated, and eventually reduced to the status of a slovenly cleaning woman alongside previous Mayte victims Mayte has no fixed appearance, looking tall and handsome to some and ugly and toadlike to others Thus the wily Mayte is able to appear in different guises including Fran ois D Apthorp and Count English von Gneist a great favorite with the snobby ladies of Princeton Mayte is apparently able to exert a hypnotic effect on people, manipulating their thoughts and behavior Mayte s most amusing incarnation occurs when he appears as Sherlock Holmes to Pearce van Dyck the narrator s father who s convinced that Sherlock Holmes cases which he believes are real hold the key to the mystery of the Curse The elder van Dyck s compulsive analysis of the Curse using Holmes work as a guide are the funniest parts of the book.Soon after Annabel Slade disappears her pre teen cousins Todd and Oriana Slade are also afflicted by the Curse as are other important Princeton families Several husbands become obsessed with the notion that their wives are committing adultery, with unfortunate consequences and a woman decides that her newborn s deliberate misbehavior requires a drastic solution Reverend Winslow Slade, who was previously President of Princton University and Governor of New Jersey is especially disturbed by the Curse because he s grandfather to Annabel, Josiah, Todd, and Oriana, as well as friend and counselor to other afflicted families Moreover, the Reverend has a shameful secret that s haunted him for five decades The book is very long, incorporating a number of historic figures These include grossly obese former President Grover Cleveland, who tries to jump out a window after seeing his daughter s ghost, but he s too fat to fit ha ha ha Jack London, famous author of adventure stories who flaunts his mistress at a speaking engagement, then has a pub party and gets wildly drunk Upton Sinclair, the painfully self conscious author of The Jungle which exposes the horrific practices of the meat industry who neglects his family and dreams of establishing a socialist colony in New Jersey President Teddy Roosevelt, who invites the vegetarian Sinclair to an uncomfortable meat filled lunch and of course Woodrow Wilson who has a plethora of health problems and an ongoing feud with Andrew Fleming West, Dean of Princeton s Graduate School During the story Wilson, happily married with several daughters, also becomes victim to the Curse when he s bewitched by a beautiful woman True to the time period, many of the characters exhibit what would now be considered atrocious behavior including rampant racism, sexism, opposition to women s suffrage, disdain for immigrants, disregard for the suffering of the lower classes , and way too high an opinion of themselves By the end of the book the Curse has run it s course and the reader learns what it was all about in a satisfying conclusion For me the book was overly long and spent too much time on ancillary characters like Jack London whose speech to a socialist group and subsequent partying seemed to go on forever and Upton Sinclair whose personal life and socialist musings took up too many pages Still, these are fairly minor quibbles about a book that s well researched, well written, and a rollicking good story I d highly recommend the book to readers who enjoy Gothic literary fiction.You can follow my reviews at This is not an easy book to categorize I have written and destroyed three reviews before settling on this uneasy summary.The Accursed is a sort of Gothic novel set in Princeton, New Jersey at the turn of the century It is a novel disguised as a narrative history written by a descendant of one of the principal actors some eighty years after the main plot lines But here, the thin line between narrative fiction and the supposed objectivity of this historical account blurs yet further.The stage setting is the sleepy little WASP hive of Princeton, New Jersey at the turn of the 20th century Socialists make grand plots on scale for the year 1910, genteel families plan the marriage of their corseted daughters, the dean of the University, Woodrow Wilson, frets about his hypochondria and plots to keep down Negroes We have a firm sense of the structure and details of this little world, and Oates unleashes all the fires of hell upon it.The plot is something Byzantine and none of the characters stories can be trusted And to further complicate things, there is the stench of the supernatural vampires with multiple identities, curses, deaths in the arctic and children turned to stone Or were any of those past things true Hard to say It s a lot of fun to figure out The story is also dotted with historical characters Former President Grover Cleveland grows fat and indolent future President Woodrow Wilson frets about the bad press of lynchings and his own imaginary illnesses, Upton Sinclair dreams of socialist revolution History is a series of guideposts for the story, but it is by no means an exact parallel The story here is extreme and grotesque, and that s what makes this book so fun. The Accursed is the latest addition to Joyce Carol Oates s boundless body of work, and it s spectacular a coalescence of history, horror and social satire that whirls around for almost 700 mesmerizing pages Oates started the novel in 1984 but set it aside to steep in its own febrile juices for three decades Now The Accursed arises in full bloom, boasting as much craft as witchcraft.The book comes to us framed as a work of amateur history, the pet project of M.W van Dyck, a member of one of the august old families in Princeton, N.J I have been privy to many materials unavailable to other historians, he tells us, dismissing earlier scholars who have tried to make sense of the tragedies that struck Princeton in 1905 No one is possessed of as much information as I am concerning the private, as well as the public, nature of the Curse What follows is a massive chronicle a patchwork of narratives, letters, diaries, journals and sermons that together unveil the grotesque assault that once shed America s bluest blood The subject matter is disconcerting, van Dyck admits, if not frankly repulsive, but the truth will out.At the center of this spectral tale, spiked with a frisson of dread, live the Slades, who can trace their lineage back to Plymouth Plantation The living patriarch, the Rev Winslow Slade, was once governor of New Jersey and now basks in the joys of retirement As one of New England s wealthiest and most esteemed Presbyterian ministers, he s still sought out by men of influence But nothing matters to him than the happiness of his four grandchildren How sad, then, that those beautiful children are torn from him, one by one, during a series of chilling events known collectively as the Curse.The first grandchild struck is beautiful Annabel, betrothed to gallant Lt Bayard Honestly, can anything worse befall a young bride than getting married in a book by Joyce Carol Oates It s always something old, something new, something borrowed, something slew This time the flowers don t just wilt, they emit a poisonous aroma that drives men to murderous rage Nine years ago, Oates published a powerful novel called The Falls about a marriage that ended on the first day of the honeymoon, but that was matrimonial bliss compared with the marriage in The Accursed, which lasts about 30 seconds It s such a masterly scene, elaborately foreshadowed, gorgeously festooned as only Oates can, and then run in delectable slow motion with some dialogue in parseltongue right up to the fantastic climax of Part I.The delights of this macabre novel gather thick as ghouls at midnight in the cemetery I ve never been so aware of Oates s weird comedy Through it all, van Dyck maintains his skeptical, scholarly tone, even when a lonely undergraduate is ravished by a self loathing gay vampire, or a minister chokes on a giant snake, or a gossipy invalid is murdered with an electric fan The scent of demons grows pungent, and viscera pile up at the bottom of these pages, but our narrator shuffles along, assuring us he s just clearing the cobwebs from a story too long encumbered by myths and rumors Where my objectivity as a historian is an issue, he tells us, I must err on the side of caution Did I mention the boy who turns to stone Among all the creatures Oates resurrects, she revives the spirit of Nathaniel Hawthorne who, with a similarly dry wit, liked to suggest the most outlandish speculations, then dismiss them immediately And his work isn t the only classic you can hear echoing in the dark forest of this story The mysterious pattern of mayhem in Princeton recalls one of America s first novels, a tale of deadly mental influence by Charles Brockden Brown called Wieland In another Accursed storyline, a professor falls into madness by trying to apply the methods of Sherlock Holmes Later, a handsome young man sails off toward the frozen terror of Edgar Allan Poe s Arthur Gordon Pym, while his lovely sister rides away in a creepy dramatization of Emily Dickinson s Because I Could Not Stop for Death Bram Stoker s Dracula flaps around every corner.Those literary allusions are only a slice of this novel s treasures Although a creaky ghost story with all its attendant specters would seem a strange frame for a work of historical fiction about the beginning of the 20th century, The Accursed provides a compelling context to explore equally scary attitudes about blacks, gays and the poor After all, to these nervous Brahmins, striking miners are just as frightening as vampires In the twilight before World War I, the pious folk of Princeton are troubled by fiery debates about the nature of God, the rights of women, the power of capital, the future of socialism and particularly the role of blacks Older residents can remember the good old days when Southern boys brought their own slaves to school But now, that calcified structure of elitism is being challenged by forces earthly and occult, and the past will have its revenge There is a monstrousness in our midst, one well heeled snob scribbles in her diary.Whereas the central, doomed family of The Accursed is Oates s invention, familiar figures such as Mark Twain, Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Theodore Roosevelt and Grover Cleveland rise from their graves fully reanimated in these pages Central among them is Princeton s most famous president, Woodrow Wilson, a brittle monomaniac shown here in all his paranoia and imperialism years before he ascended to the White House and made the world safe for democracy Oates doesn t just knock him off his pedestal she crushes him beneath the weight of his own bizarre habits and terrors She takes special delight in detailing Wilson s penchant for demonizing anyone who disagrees with him, telling racist jokes and pumping his own stomach with a tube.A professor at Princeton for decades, Oates also luxuriates in exposing the school s ivy strangled traditions in a claustrophobic little world of privilege and anxiety in which one was made to care too much about too little Internecine battles threaten to tear the school apart, and the students are devoted to socializing, not scholarship And there s a wickedly funny section about Princeton s obsession with homosexuality that foreshadows our current approach to prosecuting terrorism in a cloud of paranoia and secrecy.Charmingly, Oates subjects herself to the same wry appraisal Van Dyck s narrative is spiked with self deprecating jokes that allude to her own critical reception, her inexhaustible verbiage, even her tendency toward melodrama When the novel s final pages veer into Shakespearean comedy and then rush into a puritanical sermon of Old Testament fury, it s clear that this is an author fully aware of her literary extravagances.Yes, it s exhaustive and exhausting as it sprawls across all this disparate material It s no wonder the word faint seems to lie on every other page And there are a few dead patches Wilson s trip to Bermuda never really comes to life, and the Jack London section drags but those ragged edges only make the book seem like something van Dyck has curated over his lifetime With its vast scope, its mingling of comic and tragic tones, its omnivorous gorging on American literature, and especially its complex reflection on the major themes of our history, The Accursed is the kind of outrageous masterpiece only Joyce Carol Oates could create. The Accursed is trippy, in the best, most all consuming sense of the word I read it like an obsessed maniac it s that much of a page turner That is to say, once you get into the unreliable narrator s pedantic perverse voice It took me about 60 pages to orient myself in his world and after that I hated to leave the world of the book for real life The setting Princeton, NJ, when Woodrow Wilson was president of the college, not the country is very evocative and I totally bought into all the lurid, Gothic splendor decay of it all It actually made we want to go research the lives of some of the real people who pop up in the book Sinclair Lewis, Jack London, Mrs Grover Cleveland who sounds like a real force of nature, sort of the Joan Holloway of 19th century New Jersey But laziness and motherhood prevailed, so I ll probably just keep wondering whether these people interacted at all IRL I wish I had to take a course in this book as I m sure there was so much I missed in my galloping reading of it. What did I just read I think it s safe to say that this is NOT my cup of tea I did not get on well with this book at all.I ll be honest and say that this could very well be your cup of tea I just didn t like the writing style.I couldn t grow any relationship with any of the characters and without any relationship between me the reader and the characters, I found the book rather dull When you don t can t care for a character or any at all I find it very hard to engage with a book.Combine this with the disjointed narrative and I was sat frowning at the end, thinking what have I just read The story didn t seem to flow right I couldn t get in to the rhythm of the writing and was easily distracted from it Which made for a pretty un enjoyable read for me.I suppose there is a slight element of mystery to this as well as the fantasy , but it wasn t strong enough to grab me.It could just be me and I think it is a personal preference thing with the writing style But sometimes the style is the most important part of the book and it just didn t work for me I received a copy of this for free via NetGalley for review purposes. Phew What a slog this was And how it pains me to give it only two stars, it was barely okay , as I am a huge fan of the supremely talented Joyce Carol Oates.Never afraid to experiment, The Accursed has been touted as her take on the horror genre, with Stephen King hailing it as the first postmodern Gothic novel Huh Horror novel it ain t All it is, basically, is a novel focusing on Princeton in the dim and distant past, and how it was a microcosm of the racism and general prejudice, especially towards women and children, that was endemic to the fledgling United States at the time.Oh, and with some supernatural elements thrown into the mix Following a lynching of wrongly accused underclass representatives of course, these are black , Princeton s leading families are suddenly subject to weird happenings and urges These quickly escalate into violence, perversion and death and not necessarily in that order.Oates has much fun presenting real historical characters in a less than salubrious light, such as Woodrow Wilson and Jack London.Actually, it is best to think of this as of a social satire than a horror novel The pacing is all wrong for horror, and the writing too old fashioned and in love with its own intricacy and eccentricity such as the peculiar and playful way Oates has with punctuation, especially her use of Italics Not that the latter is a bad thing, of course.And Oates is not really interested in the mechanics and tropes of the genre either One suspects that her publisher latched onto the convenient handle of selling this to the Twilight crowd by appealing to their sense of the macabre Boy, are they in for a surprise Stephanie Meyer cannot hold a candle to Joyce Carol Oates when its comes to perversion and bawdiness There are moments of ingenious horror, though, such as the bravura setpieces in the Bog Kingdom But these are not enough to redeem what is an overlong, muddled pastiche of a novel that takes too long to get nowhere, in the end.And an entire chapter at the end, a religious sermon, no less, explaining THE PROVENANCE OF THE CURSE entirely in capitalised text Maybe this is a horror novel after all No matter how great a book is, I am antsy That s one of the reasons I have a hard time with longer books, in particular this one, because it takes many pages for very little to happen Joyce Carol Oates is somewhat intimidating to me because she has such a large body of work that I don t know where to start I started with The Accursed not intentionally, but by default I love spooky stories It s obvious that Oates is a fantastic writer She created the world of Princeton, NJ in the early 20th century with such vividness, and weaved her gothic story into real history with such ease that I became newly curious about historical figures like Upton Sinclair, Woodrow Wilson, and Grover Cleveland Still, the plot gets frequently bogged down by historical asides that go on for pages and pages Even once I settled in for the long ride, I felt like there were too many interruptions to the momentum, and that a good editor could have shaved off quite a few pages of them.I will definitely read another Joyce Carol Oates book, despite my disappointment in this novel.
- 669 pages
- The Accursed
- Joyce Carol Oates
- 27 April 2017 Joyce Carol Oates