Book review: Carthage by Joyce Carol Oates

I picked this up at the library because it was on a featured shelf, and is a recently published novel by a renown author. Of course I knew of Joyce Carol Oates – she has written 40 novels  – but I had only a vague memory of thinking highly of something she’d written.

To start out, the title Carthage was not appealing. Mak20140605_211218[1]es me think of “carnage.” I wonder why she chose that to be the name of the town.

It is an outstandingly written book, with twists of plot to keep attention, and showing a talent for conveying personality and mood with few words. It got a bit tedious in the early-mid section, but then picked up and didn’t stop.

Not a happy topic… Damaged young veteran from Afghanistan comes home to Carthage and inevitably inflicts more suffering. Troubled young woman gets into yet more trouble. I don’t want to give any spoilers, and cannot predict if you will like it or not, but here are a few statements I found in online reviews (mainly Goodreads):

  • As a description of psychopathology the book is somewhat compelling but I didn’t really enjoy it at all.
  • Characters do weird things without any explanation
  • Explores issues relating simultaneously to the inner psychology of flawed characters, and also to current events such as distant wars.
  • This book… is about how a single incident wrecks the lives of a whole family.
  • I really HATED the main characters – all of them seem to have one personality trait (or flaw), and they never deviate despite the trauma they seem to have suffered. There’s no growth, there’s too little depth.

Are you intrigued? I thought it was worth reading and then talking about.