AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The latest novel by novel Joyce Carol Oates, her 40th, has just been published. It's called "Carthage." Our reviewer Alan Cheuse says, like in much of Oates' other works of fiction, we encounter an American family in torment - this time in a small town in the upstate New York.
ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: The town is Carthage, the wilds are the Nautauga State Forest Preserve, the family is the Mayfields - Zeno, the husband, a former mayor of the town, and wife Arlette, daughters Juliet and Cressida, whom Oates denotes as like the daughters of a fairy-tale king. And there's Brett Kincaid, Juliet's ex-fiancee, the Iraq War veteran who's returned to Carthage wounded in body and soul.
When Cressida the younger Mayfield girl - a small, rather androgynous creature who dropped out of college and returned home - incongruously throws herself at the wounded Brett, whatever glue seemed to hold the family together melts in the heat of violence. The police find Brett semi-conscious in his blood-spattered vehicle in the Forest Preserve and Cressida has gone missing. In the wake of her disappearance, which the authorities take to be a murder to which the dazed and wounded veteran confesses, a huge search ensues.
Making up part of that search is the surprising second half of an already intriguing story. It takes us on a prison tour in Florida where an infamous American muckraker takes secret photographs, while his devoted young assistant gathers notes for his latest project, an expose of American punishment and crime.
Exactly how these two major sections of this new novel come together, I won't reveal. But I can point out that the prison guard who conducts the tour - known in these pages as the lieutenant, as Oates describes him - seems familiar in his approach. He's an impresario at the mast of a careening amusement park ride - roller coaster, demon-twister.
Here she is, Joyce Carol Oats, in her 40the novel, still throwing her shoulder again and again, trying to break down the door between us and the truth about family and the varieties of love and madness in American life.
CORNISH: The book is "Carthage," written by Joyce Carol Oates, and reviewed for us by Alan Cheuse.
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