Brilliant. Of course, Oates is ALWAYS brilliant. There’s no other author with such an effortless feel for human misery. Contempt for self is a heavy thing to carry around.
There’s a sense of life in her novels, a sense that the book is an actually living thing and the people in it to some degree autonomous. I do wonder if perhaps this book got away from her to a certain degree. It moves in unexpected directions, shifting past major events at a blinding rate and ignoring important characters for huge chunks of the narrative. I never found a central plot-line to latch onto. No rising and falling action, no climax – or rather, several separate climaxes.
Oates isn’t the sort of writer who strikes one as willfully defiant; there’s no typographical high flying and no fancy tricks of perspective. And yet she manages time and again to confound me. There is no convention she will not break, though it’s not the kind of rule-breaking that one notices right away. She’s the master of subtle rebellion.
If there is one through-line here, it is that of racial conflict, and the violence born of that conflict. Oates makes no statements, however. There is no evil here, and no good, though quite a few people who think themselves good or evil. In the end, there is only what is under the skin – neither good nor evil, neither black nor white. Only human. Only bitter hearts.