I read this book around April, I think, and it undoubtedly is the best book I have read this year. It was my first Oates, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But I very quickly discovered that I had nothing to worry about.
It is essentially the story of an American family in the late previous century, as narrated by Judd, the lastborn of the family, who is now thirty years old and working as a newspaper editor. Think about every thing a family should be. Then think about what can go wrong. On Valentine’s Day, 1976, something does goes wrong, and everything good comes crashing down. (I’m really struggling to not give anything away.)
The book is divided into four parts, with an epilogue to crown it all. Each chapter has a title and focuses on something seeming irrelevant to the story but, in the end becomes most crucial. The writing is magic! Oates is a master of details. And style. If you are looking for a stunning blend of style and story (in the great tradition of Toni Morrison) then you should certainly read this book. Judd’s voice is secure, soothing, telling us, to borrow Ms. Morrison’s phrase, very difficult things but in a way that makes it OK to hear them.
It is a shocking book, not that there’s anything dramatic about it – there’s not – but because of it’s acute grasp on humanity. It can get ugly, Oates seems to be telling us, but it’s still human. Which brings me to my favourite thing about the book: the characters. Holy Moly! I have not, in all my years of reading fiction, encountered characters that feel as real and true as these. It’s as though Oates is telling us about real people she actually knows, so profound is her knowledge of them. Now, many months later I still dream of the characters.
This is a book that will make you smile. Then make you cry. Then vex the hell out of you. But in the end, this a book that will heal you. I rate it 4.5/5.
PS: My copy has this peculiar smell; I can’t name it, but I fell in love with it while reading, and now if I have to reinhabit the world of the Mulvaneys, I simply go and smell the book. 😀
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