Mudwoman - Joyce Carol Oates

This is an engrossing but unsettling psychological drama about an accomplished academic who begins to unravel after long-repressed memories from early childhood engulf her. Oates blends gothic horror with behind-the-scenes politics in the rarified world of an ivy league university. That she can so effectively convey this world, and a depiction of life in a sleepy city in upstate NY, is not surprising given her storytelling gifts. What makes this so compelling is that you aren't sure if what you are reading is actually happening in the story or is a product of the protagonist's increasingly deranged imagination. This gives Oates ample opportunity to terrorize in the manner of Edgar Allen Poe as she gruesomely concocts her character's increasingly bizarre dreams and hallucinations. It is a harrowing tale of a brilliant woman's collapse and the possibility for redemption after she embraces the many forces which have shaped her. By confronting both the horrifying as well as the edifying aspects of her childhood, she is finally able to envision a more balanced and satisfying life for herself. In another nod to Poe, the ending is ambiguous.

 

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