Review: A Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates

The shockingly prolific author's latest does not pull its punches

Author  Joyce Carol Oates’s new book is  essentially two novels interwoven, following the often parallel paths of the pro- and anti-abortion camps in America. Photograph: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Getty Images

Author Joyce Carol Oates’s new book is essentially two novels interwoven, following the often parallel paths of the pro- and anti-abortion camps in America. Photograph: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Getty Images

Sat, Nov 4, 2017, 00:00

   
 

Book Title:
A Book of American Martyrs

ISBN-13:
978-0008221713

Author:
Joyce Carol Oates

Publisher:
Fourth Estate

Guideline Price:
£9.99

A Book of American Martyrs from the shockingly prolific Joyce Carol Oates isn’t about to pull its punches. It is essentially two novels interwoven, following the often parallel paths of the pro- and anti-abortion camps in America, as represented by a middle-class, educated abortionist’s family, and the poorer, God-fearing family of the man who kills him in the opening pages.

Oates’s pace and plot is more typical of the best of crime fiction, and this alone is enough to propel you through much of the 700 pages. The fathers dispensed with, the action pivots around daughters of the two families, Naomi Voorhees and Dawn Dunphy, as they play out the martyrdom of the title.

Of the two, Dawn, a furious powerhouse of a woman, is as electric in her contained anger as she is releasing it the boxing ring; Naomi is a shadow of a character by comparison, despite her privilege and standing.

Perhaps Oates fails to be as even-handed as the structure suggests in herding us into the pro- and anti-abortion camps – or she’s too smart to attempt that in the first place.