Joyce Carol Oates is critically recognized as one of the greatest American writers of fiction. Her dark and brooding stories range from tense to terrifying, and are often characterized by strange symbolism, dreamy scenes and brutal violence, all overlaid with fantastically gripping storytelling. Her novels can be difficult, intellectually and emotionally challenging, but they are worth the time and energy invested.
Oates’s latest, THE ACCURSED, is no exception. It takes place in one year in Princeton, New Jersey, but also reaches back in time 50 years or more and across metaphysical and magical space. The book is styled as the history of the “Curse” that afflicted the university town, a curse that arrives seemingly out of the blue and leaves the traumatized residents as abruptly as it came. The Curse begins as “the unspeakable,” actions and thoughts not allowed in the polite and rigid society of Princeton. But over time, as the evil grows in power, it must be confronted and atoned.
"At once a gothic horror story, historical fiction, and a critical examination of family, community, race, religion, gender, violence and the creative drive, THE ACCURSED is a literary marvel. It is scary, bizarre, shocking, creepy, dark and dense, but also funny and smart, full of a dizzying amount of literary and historical references..."
Our narrator is the amateur historian M.W van Dyck II, a native to Princeton himself who is writing in 1984. Drawing on books and documents that have, in the past, attempted to understand the Curse (also known as the “Horror”), he is also in possession of some artifacts to which no one else has been previously privy and thus sets out to reconstruct and finally explain the frightening events of 1905-1906 wherein a series of hauntings, nightmares, fights, violence and even murders racked the town and its inhabitants. In over 650 pages, the story of the Curse unfurls, in a heady and sprawling collection of letters, diary entries, surreal experiences breathlessly dictated, and van Dyck’s