cover image Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart

Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart

Joyce Carol Oates. Dutton Books, $19.95 (405pp) ISBN 978-0-525-24860-6

Murder galvanizes an industrial town in upstate New York when a husky red-haired corpse is fished from a polluted river in 1956. With sure strokes, Oates ( American Appetites ) delineates the racial hatreds leading to the crime that then entangles black basketball hero Verlyn (``Jinx'') Fairchild and blonde Iris Courtney. Their coming of age from the mid-'50s to the mid-'60s--in the shadow of the civil rights struggle and John F. Kennedy's assassination--their love and their unpremeditated complicity in the town's violence are brilliantly portrayed. Jinx, appealing in his ``innocence and impotence,'' can't help himself or his brother, Sugar Baby, wrecked by drug dealing. Iris, alert, locked into icy detachment, watches Jinx suffer, while her own alcoholic mother and gambling father drift apart. Blotting out her problems, Iris sleepwalks into the household of the exotic Savages, art historians who prize her beauty. Oates is a master at realizing the social forces that twist the fates of her characters. BOMC dual main selection. (Apr.)