cover image The Sacrifice

The Sacrifice

Joyce Carol Oates. Ecco, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-233297-4

In this disjointed tale of race, community, and pride, a teenage black girl named Sybilla Frye is raped and left for dead in the basement of an abandoned New Jersey factory. Inspired by the 1988 Tawana Brawley case, this supposed whodunit becomes clouded by race and politics after Sybilla accuses white police officers of the crime. Her mother, Ednetta Frye, refuses to cooperate with police as outrage boils over in their community of Red Rock, part of the fictional city of Pascayne, N.J. After the spotlight-seeking Rev. Marus Mudrick starts the “Crusade for Justice for Sybilla Frye,” the crime devolves into a nationwide spectacle. Pascayne begins to splinter, and once-certain facts turn to doubts and intrigue until the true reason for the attack becomes clear. New Jersey has been familiar territory for Oates, most recently in her gothic novel The Accursed. In The Sacrifice, however, each chapter jumps to a new, unpredictable perspective, making the story fragmented and often repetitive. Oates’s heavy and overt focus on race leaves little room for nuance, despite the complex and multifaceted events of her book. (Jan.)