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Author: Joyce Carol Oates
A major historical novel from "one of the great artistic forces of our time" (The Nation)--an eerie, unforgettable story of possession, power, and loss in early-twentieth-century Princeton, a cultural crossroads of the powerful and the damned Princeton, New Jersey, at the turn of the twentieth century: a tranquil place to raise a family, a genteel town for genteel souls. But something dark and dangerous lurks at the edges of the town, corrupting and infecting its residents. Vampires and ghosts haunt the dreams of the innocent. A powerful curse besets the elite families of Princeton; their daughters begin disappearing. A young bride on the verge of the altar is seduced and abducted by a dangerously compelling man?a shape-shifting, vaguely European prince who might just be the devil, and who spreads his curse upon a richly deserving community of white Anglo-Saxon privilege. And in the Pine Barrens that border the town, a lush and terrifying underworld opens up. When the bride's brother sets out against all odds to find her, his path will cross those of Princeton's most formidable people, from Grover Cleveland, fresh out of his second term in the White House and retired to town for a quieter life, to soon-to-be commander in chief Woodrow Wilson, president of the university and a complex individual obsessed to the point of madness with his need to retain power; from the young Socialist idealist Upton Sinclair to his charismatic comrade Jack London, and the most famous writer of the era, Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain--all plagued by "accursed" visions. An utterly fresh work from Oates, The Accursed marks new territory for the masterful writer. Narrated with her unmistakable psychological insight, it combines beautifully transporting historical detail with chilling supernatural elements to stunning effect.
The novel includes several historical figures from the time including Woodrow Wilson, who is then president of Princeton University; Upton Sinclair, who is just getting fame for his novel The Jungle; former President Grover Cleveland; Teddy Roosevelt; Jack London; Mark Twain; and even Sherlock Holmes puts in an appearance. Upton Sinclair is a socialist and also a prolific writer who wants to make life better for the working class. He admires Jack London, another socialist, and wants him to head his society. But Sinclair is disillusioned with London after meeting him in New York. London turns out to be a loud obnoxious brawler who likes his drink more than the ideals of Sinclair. Wilson is also very flawed. He takes no action on the lynching that happened nearby, he believes in segregation and wants to keep blacks out of Princeton, and he has an affair with another woman. Roosevelt and Twain are also not shown in the best of light.
This was a long novel at over 600 pages and it was sometimes difficult to read but I did find it compelling and I enjoyed Oates look at the historical figures included in the story. I have read several Oates novels and collections of stories and I have not been disappointed in them. I'm sure I will be reading more. Based on this one, I also want to read more about Jack London, Sinclair, Wilson, and Roosevelt. I did read The Jungle several years ago and I know Sinclair was aiming it at the deplorable working conditions of the men in the packing houses of Chicago but it is better known for its role in the enactment of the Federal Meat Inspection Act.
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