I can eat shelled peas with chopsticks. In fact, that is my preference. For lunch, right now, I am eating a bowl of fried rice, with chopsticks. So is it any wonder that I enjoyed reading a 600-page-and-more novel about a medley of interesting themes served up by a deliciously unreliable narrator?
That was a rhetorical question.
The Accursed is the first novel by Joyce Carol Oates that I have read, and I am glad that I did. The story is set in Princeton, New Jersey, in the first decade of the 20th century. The narrator sets out to give a strictly historical account of a time of great and baffling events in Princeton, town and gown.
As a Minister of the Word and Sacrament, ordained by the Presbyterian Church USA, I have a natural affinity for a story set in this place. However, that would not be enough to convince me to part with gold or silver. I would be persuaded, perhaps, but not convinced. It was the promise of a variation on the gothic novel convention delivered by a twittish narrator that tipped the scale for me.
I enjoy magical realism. I have never met a demon I didn’t find interesting. And I enjoy alternative ways of exercising my spiritual and theological brain spaces.
This novel delivers some instruction and much delight.
I greatly enjoyed the unreliable narrator, the vampires, the demons, and the Presbyterian overtones. Less to my liking, at first, was the strong presence of historical characters such as Woodrow Wilson, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, and Mark Twain.
I avoid historical novels that retell what I already know, in general, but this one won me over, at least in terms of itself. The story would be a slice of swiss cheese without the inclusion of all these Big Cheeses.
To discuss the novel at any length, from any angle, would spoil the experience for you, which makes my work almost done here. I will share one quote from the last page, the Acknowledgments –
The truths of Fiction reside in metaphor; but metaphor is here generated by History.
This statement could easily describe the attitude of many of us in ministry.
Here spins a world on the edge of explosion, a world already inside out with lingering injustice and dark thinking. The angels and the demons at times are hard to tell apart. Nature is in league with the devil, it seems, and everything including the social order is heading without thought or pause for the towering cliff edge of disorder. You tell yourself that you won’t jump after those ahead of you, but when push comes to shove, you try with all your might to fly but fail and fall.
If you don’t know whether I am describing *The Accursed* or the stories behind this morning’s headlines, perhaps this is a book that you, too, would enjoy.