Matthew Surridge on The Accursed


Matthew Surridge, writing for Blackgate.com, considered each book in Joyce Carol Oates’s “Gothic” series, in preparation for The Accursed, the final book of the series to be published. He now offers his take on The Accursed, as well as the series as a whole.

Here as in the other gothics, Oates is interrogating and implicating the racism, sexism, and classism of American history (and, implicitly, America present). But if this book feels like a fitting climax to the whole sequence, that may be because here it is clearest what her purpose is in doing so — how the obvious prejudices of times now long past can bear upon our own era, often subtler in its oppressions. We see in this book, when all’s said and done, how injustices long gone can have horrible consequences well after the fact. If they are not acknowledged. If they are not exorcised, by confession — not necessarily religious confession, but by putting crimes into words. The whole of the gothic sequence becomes an extended exercise in exhuming the rotting sins of the past, that they may begin to be laid properly to rest. Demons, some have suggested, can be controlled when their names are spoken.

. . .

Collectively,  [JCO's Gothic novels] present a nightmare vision of America in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The specificity of that national experience makes it universal: an examination of power and horror at a societal level. Now that they can be read all together, that can be appreciated perhaps as never before. Each takes a slightly different approach, a slightly different form and different tone, to the same basic problem. But they’re all unified by a set of similar images and by their complex dreamlike structures. Each of them is a strong book, and some are masterpieces. Together, they’re a tremendous achievement in American letters, and in American fantasy.

Read the complete, brilliant essay here.

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