Set in Princeton, New Jersey, in the early 20th century, The Accursed follows the prestigious family of the minister Winslow Slade, which is under a mysterious curse. The story is presented by M.W. van Dyck, a historian from Princeton. Like Wilkie Collins, Oates relies on different kinds of texts to tell the story, such as letters and characters’ diaries, along with footnotes from the historian. The curse first appears when the young woman Annabel Slade disappears at her wedding. It’s said that she was abducted by a handsome stranger, but others say that she ran away willingly.
Most of the book is about the Slade family, but several other characters are real people, like Woodrow Wilson and Upton Sinclair, and several chapters are from their point of view. Maybe I’m missing something, but I feel like these parts of the novel — especially the Upton Sinclair chapters — don’t quite fit. They don’t seem to go anywhere or connect to the rest of the book.
Other than that, though, I thought this was excellent. I think I like this one slightly better than Bellefleur, the other book I’ve read by Joyce Carol Oates. That one was intriguing but a little too grotesque for me, and I had a hard time making sense of the characters.
some quotes I liked:
“It is an afternoon of autumn, near dusk. The western sky is a spider’s wen of translucent gold. I am being brought by carriage — two horses — muted thunder of their hooves— along narrow country roads between hilly fields touched with the sun’s slanted rays, to the village of Princeton, New Jersey. The urgent pace of the horses has a dreamlike air, like the rocking motion of the carriage; and whoever is driving the horse his face I cannot see, only his back — stiff, straight, in a tight-fitting dark coat. Quickening of a heartbeat that must be my own yet seems to emanate from without, like a great vibration of the very earth. There is a sense of exhilaration that seems to spring, not from me, but from the countryside. How hopeful I am! How excited! With what childlike affection, shading into wonderment, I greet this familiar yet near-forgotten landscape! Cornfields, wheat pastures in which dairy cows graze like motionless figures in a landscape by Corot… the calls of redwinged blackbirds and starlings… the shallow thought swift-flowing stony brook creek and the narrow wood plank bridge over which the horses’ hooves and the carriage wheels thump… a smell of rich, moist earth, of harvest… I see now that I am being propelled along the Great Road, I am nearing home, I am nearing the mysterious origin of my birth. The journey I undertake is not one of geographical space but one of time — for it is the year 1905 that is my destination.
1905! The very year of the Curse…”
“Fellow historians will be shocked, dismayed, and perhaps incredulous — I am daring to suggest that the Curse did not first manifest itself on June 4, 1905, which was the disastrous morning of Annabel Slade’s wedding, and generally acknowledged to be the initial public manifestation of the Curse, but rather earlier, in the late winter of the year, on the eve of Ash Wednesday in early March.”