cover image Carthage


Joyce Carol Oates. Ecco, $26.99 (496p) ISBN 978-0-06-220812-5

Oates (The Accursed) returns with another novel that ratchets up the unsettling to her signature feverish pitch. Beginning with an attention-grabbing opener that begets addictive reading—Zeno Mayfield and a search party are on the hunt for Mayfield’s missing 19-year-old daughter, Cressida, in the Adirondack woods—the story chronicles the creepy circumstances surrounding the girl’s assumed murder. Was she, as many in the upstate New York town of Carthage suspect, beaten to death and dumped in the Black River by her older sister’s ex-fiancé, Brett Kincaid, a decorated Iraqi War vet? Or did she, the “dark twisty” daughter prone to excessive self-loathing, play some perverse role in her own disappearance? What transports the story beyond a carefully crafted whodunit is Oates’s dogged exploration of each character’s culpability in the case, which spans nearly seven years. Between Kincaid’s noncoerced but PTSD-fueled confession and Cressida’s feelings that her family didn’t understand or love her enough (the source of her long-suppressed desire to escape from them), nearly everyone can somehow be held responsible for the supposed crime—and seen as its unintended victim. When the truth and its fallout finally becomes clear at the end, the mood is not surprisingly claustrophobic and grim. Once again, Oates’s gift for exposing the frailty—and selfishness—of humans is on display. (Feb.)