Carthage by Joyce Carol Oates

Book – Carthage is the story of a family in anguish in a small town in upstate New York.  The novel begins with the search for recently returned college freshman Cressida in the woods of the Nautauga Forest Preserve.  Her father Zeno leads the search.  Foul play is suspected when the young woman is not found.  Things get complicated when witnesses come forward stating that they saw her throwing herself at Brett, her sister Juliet’s fiancé. Cressida was convinced that she and Brett are destined to be together, because they are both misfits in their hometown of Carthage. Brett is afflicted by many demons, having recently come home from the war in Iraq suffering severe injuries both physically and psychologically.  He is a shell of his former self and has become prone to fits of delusion and violent outbursts. The authorities conclude that Cressida must have been murdered. During the search, Brett is found unconscious in his blood-spattered jeep. Due to pressure from the police and because Brent has no recollection of what happened, he confesses.

The story then picks up 8 years later at a maximum-security prison in Florida and focuses on a young female assistant working for an investigator who champions for social justice issues and fighting corruption. The young woman was found beaten and bruised almost 7 years ago in the Adirondack Mountains.  Her Good Samaritan brought her to Florida where the investigator hired her as an intern, even though she shares nothing about her past life.

Oates is a brilliant storyteller and in Carthage she manages to convey the complexity of family relationships, human frailty, mental illness, and the casualties of war, but above all the power of forgiveness and the will to survive.

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