Following her period piece The Accursed, set in a mythical version of Princeton, Oates returns to the familiar territory of her semi-fictional take on contemporary northern New York in her new novel Carthage. I've probably been to, or more to the point through, the real Carthage during my years growing up in the region, but I don't have a specific recollection. That's probably okay; aside from its proximity to wilderness areas of the Adirondacks, it serves as a nondescript Everytown in this story of events precipitated by the disappearance of a young woman.--Hank was a bookseller & jack-of-all-trades at TC for decades. He recently retired to read more.
Points of view shift, as we learn about the circumstances leading up to the... crime? Foul play seems certainly to be the likeliest explanation, but even within the traumatized mind of the Iraq War vet who is the primary suspect, his status as Unreliable Narrator casts doubt on what really happened. Lacking more than the sketchiest of evidence, he ends up confessing to the... crime? and being incarcerated.
But, it's never as simple as that, in Oates's world. The middle part of the book explores her recurring fascination with the twin odysseys of personality and identity in a deeper way than debatably anything she's written since Wonderland, over 40 years ago. To reveal more about this curious feat of storytelling would be a disservice to readers.
Ultimately, we return to pick up the threads of the aftermath of a... crime? without adequate closure, and the disparate ways people handle Not Really Knowing. The vivid description of "The Long Wall" drivers arriving in the real-life prison town of Dannemora experience evoked a strong memory of the one time I passed through, quite different from general-purpose Carthage. It's kind of an alternate-route town, if that isn't your destination. The story ends in a startling truncation I found somewhat unsatisfying, with an imminent development on the brink of happening. While it can be fun to engage readers in using their own imaginations to fill in the blanks, I would have been more interested to know what Oates thinks is going to happen next. I really didn't have any particular theory, even though I liked going along for the ride. ~Hank
A young girl's disappearance rocks a community and a family in this stirring examination of grief, faith, justice, and the atrocities of war from Joyce Carol Oates, "one of the great artistic forces of our time" (The Nation)
Zeno Mayfield's daughter has disappeared into the night, gone missing in the wilds of the Adirondacks. But when the community of Carthage joins a father's frantic search for the girl, they discover the unlikeliest of suspects--a decorated Iraq War veteran with close ties to the Mayfield family. As grisly evidence mounts against the troubled war hero, the family must wrestle with the possibility of having lost a daughter forever.
Carthage plunges us deep into the psyche of a wounded young corporal haunted by unspeakable acts of wartime aggression, while unraveling the story of a disaffected young girl whose exile from her family may have come long before her disappearance.
Dark and riveting, Carthage is a powerful addition to the Joyce Carol Oates canon, one that explores the human capacity for violence, love, and forgiveness, and asks if it's ever truly possible to come home again.