Friday, April 28, 2017

A BOOK OF AMERICAN MARTYRS





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A Book of American Martyrs, Joyce Carol Oates, Ecco/HarperCollins, 2017, 736 pp


Summary from Goodreads: In this striking, enormously affecting novel, Joyce Carol Oates tells the story of two very different and yet intimately linked American families. Luther Dunphy is an ardent Evangelical who envisions himself as acting out God's will when he assassinates an abortion provider in his small Ohio town while Augustus Voorhees, the idealistic doctor who is killed, leaves behind a wife and children scarred and embittered by grief.

In her moving, insightful portrait, Joyce Carol Oates fully inhabits the perspectives of two interwoven families whose destinies are defined by their warring convictions and squarely-but with great empathy-confronts an intractable, abiding rift in American society.
 


My Review:
I could not put this book down. For Joyce Carol Oates I will gladly set aside a week but I read it in three days! Coming practically on the heels of Brit Bennett's The Mothers, I was not sure I was ready for another novel on the abortion dispute. But since I have chosen to read and write about books as my form of activism in these divided times, I dove in. 

Joyce Carol Oates goes at the issue from a different direction than Brit Bennett did. Here we have two men who are willing, you could even say eager, to die for their beliefs regarding a woman's right to decide about her own body and her own reproductive role. In fact, in this novel, we never directly see the issue from a pregnant woman's viewpoint. 

Luther Dunphy, the evangelical killer of an abortion doctor, is unmistakably a JCO creation. He is quite nearly insane or at least an example of how a religious belief system can intermingle with a human being's weaknesses and drive him to insane behavior. However, Dr Augustus Vorhees has his own demons driving him to take the liberal view of a woman's rights to equal extremes. Both men endanger their wives and leave their children bewildered and lost.

I did not expect a pleasant read but I was impressed by the sure-handedness with which the author covered a large and complex issue that has its roots deep in the American psyche. She also shows through the children and wives of these two men, that as divided as we appear to be, our deepest hopes and fears come from similar places. In the final denouement, which I confess I did see coming, she even offers some hope.

Joyce Carol Oates is a strong cup of tea, not to all readers' liking. If you do like her, or want to read her for the first time, I can guarantee you will not have wasted your time. Also, whatever side of the fence you are on, you will find a clearer understanding of the other side.


(A Book of American Martyrs is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

10 comments:

  1. In these times, more than ever, that topic is a great divider of public opinion, as some things in politics usually are. I have a Catholic friend who has never gotten over an abortion she had many years ago. I realize Catholicism, in particular, as a religious faith, doesn't mix too well with modern ideas of womanhood and sexual liberation, but at least in literature we can see the other side of the issue without being too explosive about it.

    Great review, Judy!

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    1. Thank you Carmen, so much. I feel sad for your friend but I too have things I find it hard to get over.

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  2. I always find Oates a challenging read. That's a good thing.

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  3. Sounds like an excellent read. I do seriously want to read this book...
    Great author!! Have a lovely week ahead :)

    P.S. You are full of surprises, Judy! (read your comment).

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    1. I look forward to your thoughts on the book. Surprises galore!

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  4. Sounds like this one might make your best of list at the end of 2017 and that its 736 pages flew by quickly! The WP reviewer called it a "masterpiece." It's not a topic I gravitate towards picking up but I will think on it. An amazing author (and I enjoy her on Twitter, ha).

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    1. I think you are right about the best of list. Yeah, she is unstoppable on Twitter!

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  5. Haven't read one of her books for years. Interesting. Cheers from carole's chatter

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    1. She writes better than ever, I feel. Thanks for stopping by Carole!

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