Author, Book review, Fiction, Joyce Carol Oates, literary fiction, Macmillan, Publisher, Setting, USA

‘Black Water’ by Joyce Carol Oates

Fiction – hardcover; MacMillan; 156 pages; 1992.

I first heard about Joyce Carol Oates’ novella Black Water via Cathy’s recent 6 Degrees of Separation post.

This slim book is based on the infamous 1969 Chappaquiddick incident in which Senator Ted Kennedy’s car crashed into the water, killing his 28-year-old passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, who was trapped inside.

Oates transposes this real-life tragedy to a different time (the early 1990s) and place (Grayling Island, Maine), and tells it from the point of view of the female victim.

A fateful meeting

When 26-year-old Kelly Kelleher meets The Senator at a Fourth of July party she is immediately enamoured by him, not least because she wrote her thesis on him and his three campaigns for the Senate. She harbours a dream to work on his presidential campaign.

The much older politician (he’s in his 50s), who has been separated from his wife for 30 years, is immediately struck by the young blonde woman with the green eyes, and the pair hit it off, so much so that they exchange a secret kiss and then go for a long drive.

It’s during this drive, in a race to get to the last ferry that evening, that the Senator’s rented Toyota leaves the road, crashes through a barricade and ends upside-down in the brackish water. The Senator manages to escape, but Kelly is trapped inside, unable to get out because her legs are pinned by twisted metal.

In her shock not knowing at first where she was, what tight-clamped place this was, what darkness, not knowing what had happened because it had happened so abruptly like a scene blurred with speed glimpsed from a rushing window and there was blood in her eyes, her eyes were wide open staring and sightless, her head pounding violently where the bone was cracked, she knew the bone was cracked believing that it would be through this fissure the black water would poor to extinguish her life unless she could find a way to escape unless he will be back to help me of course.

The narrative is largely comprised of Kelly’s thoughts as she realises she is trapped and that The Senator is not coming back to rescue her. As she dies, her thoughts are a jumble of memories, mainly recent ones, as she recalls events at the party, snippets of conversation, the unexpected (but delicious) kiss she receives and the attention The Senator lavishes on her.

The chapters are short, sometimes just a page long, and the prose style alternates between long, breathless sentences, and short, choppy ones, reflecting Kelly’s changing moods – from excitement to disbelief to fear and panic.

It’s an easy book to read, even if the contents are occasionally heartbreaking, for here is a happy carefree young woman who has had her life cut abruptly short by a man drunk behind the wheel — and the man has now fled the scene.

Unfortunately, Black Water, which was first published in 1992, is currently out of print. I purchased mine secondhand online via Abebooks.

I read this for Novellas in November hosted by Cathy and Bookish Becks.

Triple Choice Tuesday

Triple Choice Tuesday: Lonesome Reader

Triple-Choice-TuesdayWelcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers, writers and readers to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles, new authors and new bloggers.

Today’s guest is Eric, who blogs at Lonesome Reader.

Eric was born and raised in Maine (Stephen King country), but has lived in London for more than a decade. Since writing the novel Enough,  which won the Pearl Street Publishing First Book Prize, he’s published many short stories and been working on a second novel.

He’s been a voracious reader since discovering at a young age that reading a book near the fire is preferable to playing in snow banks. He’s also keen on baking and watching disaster movies.

The-WavesA favourite book: The Waves by Virginia Woolf

I’ve been reading and rereading The Waves for well over half my life, yet it still surprises, moves and inspires me. It’s that brilliant! So ingeniously and radically structured. So strangely voiced in some kind of subterranean speech of consciousness. It beautifully captures every stage of life from early childhood to old age, framing it all within the progression of a single day. I read through passages from The Waves early in the morning or listen to an audio recording of the book while walking through London. It’s an ever-pleasurable experience.

WinterborneA book that changed my world: Mysteries of Winterthurn by Joyce Carol Oates

Like many keen readers who study literature, I discovered a wider scope of books at university. After reading Mysteries of Winterthurn while doing an MA at the University of East Anglia, my eyes were opened to the possibilities of what literature can really do. It’s a novel of mystery written in a Gothic style, but the search of its hero detective, Xavier Kilgarvan, is more about uncovering the existential mysteries of life. However, this richly entertaining novel isn’t a straightforwardly philosophical doctrine. It abounds with horrific ghosts, racy romance and nerve-tingling chases. Reading this novel also began a continuing love-affair I have with Oates’ seemingly-limitless imagination.

Lake-overturnA book that deserves a wider audience: Lake Overturn by Vestal McIntyre

Vestal McIntyre has a tremendous gift for drawing out what’s extraordinary about superficially ordinary characters in this brilliantly realised novel about a fictional small town in Idaho. Each character is funny, thoughtful and prone to being his or her own worst enemy. I was so mesmerised by the story of this book that while reading it on a plane which encountered a disturbing level of turbulence my only concern was that the aircraft would crash before I got to the end. First published by Harper Collins in 2009, Lake Overturn deserves to be known and read by everyone. It’s a tremendous, heart-felt novel.

Thanks, Eric, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!

Such interesting choices! I’ve not read any of them, but you may have convinced me to try my first Woolf!

What do you think of Eric’s choices? Have you read any of these books?