Book Review: 'The Accursed,' By Joyce Carol Oates Set at the turn of the century within the grand houses of Princeton, The Accursed is populated with specters, demons and even a vampire. But the real monsters in Joyce Carol Oates' chilling tale are the members of Princeton's elite, who preach from the pulpits and judge without compassion.


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The Devil To Pay In Oates' 'Accursed' America

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. You could fill a Florida ceiling bookshelf with the work of Joyce Carol Oates. She's been publishing since the 1960s at a prolific pace - dozens and dozens of books. Her latest novel is "The Accursed," and reviewer Deborah Harkness says it deserves close attention.

DEBORAH HARKNESS, BYLINE: About a year ago, I heard a rumor: Joyce Carol Oates is writing a vampire novel. Well, that was only partly true. What she did write is "The Accursed." It's a sprawling book, and it's about some terrible things that happen in Princeton, N.J., in the early part of the last century. It starts when a young woman disappears from her own wedding. Everyone knows she left with a handsome stranger. But was she kidnapped, or did she want to go with him?

This is a high-society drama - grand houses, distinguished scholars, the storied university. There's even a vampire, if you're willing to dig for him. But don't let him distract you. The central character of "The Accursed" is actually a historian named M.W. Vandyke II. He's a passionate narrator, but he's also a little cartoony. We follow him through plot detours and discussions while he tries to figure out what's happening in Princeton.

He can't see the bigger picture, but we can. The town is cursed, but it's not the monsters. It's the upper classes of Princeton, the ones who preach and judge with no compassion. There's some disturbing racial violence in this book, class warfare, religious intolerance. It's a story about the hazards of being narrow-minded.

In the end, this book is not a paranormal romance. It's not a page-turner, and it's not an easy read. But if you love stories that peel back the glittering facade of life among the 1 percent, if you love novels from the early 1900s, then "The Accursed" is probably for you.

BLOCK: "The Accursed" is the latest novel from Joyce Carol Oates. Our reviewer is Deborah Harkness, author of the novel "A Discovery Of Witches." And you can find other reviews, and a lot more about books and authors, at For the latest updates, you can like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter at NPRBooks.


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