Book review: Carthage, easily confused as Carnage

Intentional? It's Joyce Carol Oates, so you must consider there may be some forethought. I have an on again/off again relationship with JCO. First of all, it's unacceptable that she teaches at Princeton, I am in Princeton often, and yet I have never seen her. I imagine that in person she is even frailer and more praying mantis like than one imagines. I feel like she would wear a brown overcoat and a plum colored hat, for some reason. I imagine that she might often cover up her hair because (I am also imagining this) she doesn't like how frizzy and unmanageable it is. I only think this because her characters often have frizzy hair, especially the ones you're meant to dislike somewhat. I think she has an arresting look, but it's the kind of attractiveness that maybe was never appreciated?

Sometimes, I like her writing a lot, and sometimes, I feel like it's a parody of Southern Gothic writing, as she usually has sentences that read something like, "Daddy didn't like his little girl anymore with her ponderous breasts and frizzy dishwater hair and flabby, un-kissable lips, did Daddy?" She writes about the grotesque, and her stories are often about people on the fringe, the poor, the abused, the murdered. I recently read one story told from the point of view of a little girl who has to stay awake to make sure her crazy mother doesn't kill her infant sister (I believe she ultimately failed). It was compelling, but also sickening. I feel like her stories always have someone slowly drowning in the mud, or being raped by a mentally handicapped uncle, or some other horrible, can't-look-away car crash quality that makes you feel slightly guilty for having even read it, as if by reading it, you're admitting that you love stories about rape, incest, and child murder.

I am curious to know if she considers herself a feminist writer.  In Carthage, there's a scene about a group of people visiting a maximum security prison, and she vividly describes the incarcerated men lunging at the bars of their cells as the women walk by, as if, given the chance, they would rape and kill the women.

The story is about a missing girl and the man accused of killing her--a man who also happens to be an Iraq veteran. He doesn't remember hurting her exactly, but then again, his memory is screwy because of what he saw in the war and PTSD and brain injuries, etc. Halfway through, the book switches to a different scenario and becomes about this weird girl with a stolen identity who is an intern for a professor. I guess we are supposed to suspect that she's actually the missing girl. If not, it's one hell of a red herring.

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