By Joyce Carol Oates
Ecco (March 5, 2013)
The Accursed is a masterpiece, a writing tour de force. Joyce Carol Oates flexes her considerable literary might to create an old-school Gothic tale that is not for anyone looking for a “quick read.” It is far more in-depth and complicated for that.
Narrated by M.W. Van Dyck II, a local historian attempting to make sense of the alleged Crosswicks Curse that plagued Princeton, New Jersey, during fourteen months from 1905 to 1906. Through various journals, letters, and other such documents, we meet the townspeople, including historical figures Woodrow Wilson, Grover Cleveland, and Upton Sinclair.
This is not “Oates does Paranormal.” In the vein of nineteenth-century stories, the horror is implied rather than overt, and the demons and vampires much more sly. The true fright is how the curse manifests itself in the townspeople, as well as who and what are ultimately responsible. Here, Oates takes the microcosm of Princeton and broadens the scope to the national level through Sinclair’s luncheon with Theodore Roosevelt at the White House, then extends it even further to explain a plague on society for thousands of years.
No holes barred, the formidable Joyce Carol Oates unleashes a stream of prose to solidify her position as “the writing beast,” as I call her, unafraid, powerful, and a force in the bibliophilic universe.
The Accursed is so many things on so many levels, but the one thing that definitely shines through is Oates’ genius.