cover image Breathe


Joyce Carol Oates. Ecco, $28.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-308547-3

Shards of nightmarish grief coalesce in Oates’s powerful latest (after The (Other) You), a fever dream unleashed when a woman fails to come to terms with the death of her husband. As the story opens, memoir writer Michaela wills her older, very ill husband, Gerard McManus, a distinguished historian of science, to breathe. Midway through the book, he succumbs to his multiple maladies: pneumonia, lung cancer, and a urethral tumor. Michaela then finds his death impossible to believe, or to accept. Overwhelmed, she drifts and is jerked in and out of reality. Sometimes she is unsure if Gerard is really dead; she sees him in other men, and believes Gerard is compelling her to follow each one. She is terrified by statues of Pueblo gods that decorate the house they’d rented together, yet cannot bear to leave. These gods—and other myths, that of Eurydice and Orpheus for one—inhabit her dreams and obsess Michaela as she spirals into a surreal and open-ended denouement that will be hotly debated by readers. Fecund with fear and anguish, and driven by raw, breathless narration, this hallucinatory tale will not disappoint. Oates is on a roll. (Aug.)