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The Accursed | [Joyce Carol Oates]

The Accursed

Princeton, New Jersey, at the turn of the 20th century: a tranquil place to raise a family, a genteel town for genteel souls. But something dark and dangerous lurks at the edges of the town, corrupting and infecting its residents. Vampires and ghosts haunt the dreams of the innocent. A powerful curse besets the elite families of Princeton; their daughters begin disappearing. A young bride on the verge of the altar is seduced and abducted by a dangerously compelling man - a shape-shifting, vaguely European prince who might just be the devil.
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Publisher's Summary

A major historical novel from "one of the great artistic forces of our time" (The Nation) - an eerie, unforgettable story of possession, power, and loss in early-20th-century Princeton, a cultural crossroads of the powerful and the damned.

Princeton, New Jersey, at the turn of the 20th century: a tranquil place to raise a family, a genteel town for genteel souls. But something dark and dangerous lurks at the edges of the town, corrupting and infecting its residents. Vampires and ghosts haunt the dreams of the innocent. A powerful curse besets the elite families of Princeton; their daughters begin disappearing. A young bride on the verge of the altar is seduced and abducted by a dangerously compelling man - a shape-shifting, vaguely European prince who might just be the devil, and who spreads his curse upon a richly deserving community of white Anglo-Saxon privilege. And in the Pine Barrens that border the town, a lush and terrifying underworld opens up.

When the bride's brother sets out against all odds to find her, his path will cross those of Princeton's most formidable people, from Grover Cleveland, fresh out of his second term in the White House and retired to town for a quieter life, to soon-to-be commander in chief Woodrow Wilson, president of the university and a complex individual obsessed to the point of madness with his need to retain power; from the young Socialist idealist Upton Sinclair to his charismatic comrade Jack London, and the most famous writer of the era, Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain - all plagued by "accursed" visions.

An utterly fresh work from Oates, The Accursed marks new territory for the masterful writer. Narrated with her unmistakable psychological insight, it combines beautifully transporting historical detail with chilling supernatural elements to stunning effect.

©2013 The Ontario Review (P)2013 HarperCollins Publishers

What Members Say

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3.4 (81 )
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  •  
    Jacqueline Denver, CO, USA 03-10-13
    Jacqueline Denver, CO, USA 03-10-13 Member Since 2004

    Say something about yourself!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Social Issues Abound in Mixed Genre--"

    Looking for a spooky vampire/ghost book? This isn't it.

    How about an easy book to listen to that flows smoothly? Nope.

    Anyone who reads Joyce Carol Oates knows that isn't what she is about. Nothing is ever really black and white. This is a massive undertaking by Oates which took decades of research and writing (it apparently was developed over 30 years.) Still, I think it kind of fell flat.

    I don't even know if I could really call this work by Oates enjoyable. I loved some prior novels like We Were the Mulvaneys and The Falls. This one takes work to get through.

    SOCIAL INJUSTICE is front and center - social issues which still exist today. Racism, sexism, (lots of sexism) class hostility, and issues with the meat processing industry thrown in for good measure.

    The "meat" of the book:

    There is a Curse raging in Princeton, NJ against the elite blue-bloods. Told from the point of view of an amateur historian, the main character throughout is Rev. Winslow Slade and his family. His children are picked off one by one as they fall prey to demons or spirits. Of course, they are not the only casualties of the vampire/ghost things. All told with a metaphorical slant.

    Although the book is basically historical fiction, there are real people involved in actual events from that time (1905-1906) -along with fictional characters to round out the drama.

    Some of the real people involved were Woodrow Wilson, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Grover Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt. Mark Twain and Sherlock Holmes even make appearances. What do all these people have to do with each other? Not a lot.

    There was an interesting exchange between Upton Sinclair and Jack London after Sinclair wrote The Jungle and he tried to engage London to help him with his social causes. London had also just written a best seller, and came to speak at a book event at the request of Sinclair--which didn't turn out as Sinclair had hoped.

    Also, a lot of political maneuvering- some involving Woodrow Wilson and his mentor, Rev. Slade. Wilson was the President of Princeton University at the time, and had a lot of problems with the staff and students. He felt there were underhanded challenges to his authority, and looked to Slade for suggestions.

    I found the spiritual/demon sprinkling throughout to be unnecessary and not very effective.

    At times I was frustrated and disappointed with the sections that dragged (60%)
    I found some of it interesting, when I would have a "finally" moment (20%)
    Some of the novel could have been eliminated without losing content (20%)

    I got through the whole thing partly due to the excellent narration by Grover Gardner.

    Even so, I don't think I could give this a favorable recommendation unless you are a complete Oates die-hard fan--and are prepared to be bored a large part of the time.


    14 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sarah NEWPORT, KY, United States 05-08-13
    Sarah NEWPORT, KY, United States 05-08-13
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
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    4
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    "Not what I expected..."
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    The narration was fine, but the story was slow and plodding. So much detail was put into these tangents that never came to much that I was exhausted with every hour. The reviews for the book were great, but it was not anything like what it was marketed as.


    What was most disappointing about Joyce Carol Oates’s story?

    It could do with some serious editing. I was expecting more mystery and darkness, as it was toted as a Gothic infused novel, but it was just snobbery and old money. There were aspects that definitely could have used more detail and focus, while hours could have been saved shaving off parts that were unimportant to the story.


    Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Grover Gardner?

    I had no issue with the narrator. His voice seemed quite appropriate for the job.


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    I will say that this book inspired me to delve into more Upton Sinclair and Jack London novels, and to explore some history of the time.


    Any additional comments?

    This was my first time reading Joyce Carol Oates, and I've seen that many people said that this is not the book to start with. I would agree. I will give another of her novels a try, and hope for better.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amanda San jose, CA, United States 04-27-13
    Amanda San jose, CA, United States 04-27-13 Member Since 2012

    Probably reading something spooky...

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not for the typical Horror fan"
    What made the experience of listening to The Accursed the most enjoyable?

    The story. It was incredibly multi-faceted, and made me feel more connected to characters that are otherwise unattainable in our present. Upton Sinclair, Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt, Jack London, Woodrow Wilson are just a few people who appear in Oates' book. I loved that I was listening to canon-worthy gothic novel.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Puss and Upton Sinclair were the stars of the book for me. Though, Puss doesn't last though the whole book. Upton Sinclair provides a sense of moral concreteness in line with what most of us believe in today, and acted as the voice of reason for the present day readers, as well as serving as a contrast to the conservative bigotry of the early 20th century.


    What three words best describe Grover Gardner’s performance?

    Odd, uncanny, imperfect


    Who was the most memorable character of The Accursed and why?

    Upton Sinclair, mostly because he is a powerful (yet meek) voice in the novel. Perhaps I just "heard" him more because I fall in line philosophically more than other characters.


    Any additional comments?

    If you are looking for a horror novel, this is not it. However, if you enjoy well-written literature that is rich with history and meaning, but also delves into the gothic, this is the book for you. To get through this book you must possess more than a desire to be frightened. If you are intrigued by dysfunction, love history, and get a kick out of the mystical (in addition to possessing some literary prowess) then read this book. I personally loved it, and even found myself frightened at times (like the violent scene featuring Copplestone). I implore you, if you are a true literature lover (not book lover, but literature lover) read this book. It is incredible, and worth the decades of effort Oates put into it.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jennifer Halifax, NS, Canada 03-20-13
    Jennifer Halifax, NS, Canada 03-20-13 Member Since 2008
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    "Tedious in the Extreme"

    It's rare that I listen to a book and don't find something to redeem it. The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates is the most disappointing book I've listened to in a long time.

    Despite the fact that she draws on historical and literary figures, there is not a single sympathetic or engaging character in the book. I don't care about any of the characters, and that's a rare thing.

    The premise of the book had great promise. What would a vampire / demon novel look like set at the turn of /very early in the 20th century? As it turns out, not much.

    The blatant racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism make me grateful that I live in the next century. The small petty politics of Princeton Univeristy and the local community are uninteresting and tedious.

    This book might be better experienced in the written form. The story is largely told from the perspective of an "historian", and the book is replete with footnotes. The constant interruption of narration by the footnotes is jarring and doesn't make for a seamless reading experience. The epistolary extracts are better, but overall the entire work hangs oddly.

    Grover Gardner does a passable job as narrator, but he doesn't have much range and most of the characters sound the same. He also has an annoying habit of mispronouncing words (ie. consummation).

    This is a long and meandering journey which doesn't ultimately go anywhere. If you're interested in this particular time period in American history, you might find this mildly interesting. If you aren't, then there's not much to recommend it.

    Overall, I'd say save your credits and find something else instead.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jane North Wales, PA, United States 02-21-14
    Jane North Wales, PA, United States 02-21-14
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    "A fantastic mix of fact and fiction"
    Would you listen to The Accursed again? Why?

    Yes. There is is such a lot of history mixed into this book. America at the turn of the twentieth century was a time of dynamic social unrest. Many strong figures in history emerged from this time and it was interesting to view their lives from the dawn of their influence.


    Any additional comments?

    As opposed to some of the other reviewers who were hoping for a fast paced and spooky horror story, I was thrilled with the depth of research that was put into this novel and skillful unfolding of the tale. It left me curious about the real life characters that filled the pages. The fervor of Woodrow Wilson, the social struggles of Upton Sinclair, the pomposity of Jack London, to name a few, breathed life into the history of this age. This combined with the story of the curse gave real dimension and sense of place to the book. I never felt it was slow. Each part was fascinating in its own right.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nicole Manning Portland, OR 07-09-13
    Nicole Manning Portland, OR 07-09-13 Member Since 2012

    author

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Slow at start, slow at finish"
    Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

    Yes and no. It's a good story, but it just takes so damn long for anything to happen. Then the epilogue is so long and flowery, it just drags.


    Has The Accursed turned you off from other books in this genre?

    No.


    What aspect of Grover Gardner’s performance would you have changed?

    Great reading of the book.


    If this book were a movie would you go see it?

    No.


    Any additional comments?

    A bit of a disappointment from one of my favorite authors.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kenneth Carrollton, TX, United States 05-05-13
    Kenneth Carrollton, TX, United States 05-05-13 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Wear a Seat Belt and Put Tooth Picks in Your Eyes"
    This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    I have read the bio of Wilson and William James and the beginning is very interesting. Then you will need tooth picks which the author tells you about puss or Puss. You will get sick of puss. Then wear the seat belt so you can finish the book.


    What could Joyce Carol Oates have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

    Leave out the middle.


    What about Grover Gardner’s performance did you like?

    excellent


    What character would you cut from The Accursed?

    Puss


    Any additional comments?

    Too much puss and snuff and shouldn't the murder be more central than Wilson, Princeton and the Nassau Club?

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Suzanne Manchester, NH, United States 04-05-13
    Suzanne Manchester, NH, United States 04-05-13 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
    5
    ratings
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    6
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    "Confused story with too much detail"

    This story was odd and I wasn't sure what kind of demons or if there were demons or just obnoxious self centered people in Princeton. I thought some of the characters were not pertinent to the story and was occassionally distracted by their story lines. I am still not sure if this was all someones dream or drug induced hallucination as there were many drugs taken by many different people in this book. And if Woodrow Wilson was really that sickly and insecure we are lucky we survived as a nation with him as President.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Janis Lancaster, CA, USA 03-17-13
    Janis Lancaster, CA, USA 03-17-13 Member Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
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    "Take a Nap....You Won't Miss Much!"
    This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    This book might be enjoyed by someone who likes a convoluted, and a never quite connected, story-line.


    Have you listened to any of Grover Gardner’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    Yes. He did a great a great performance...the only redeeming thing about this purchase.


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Accursed?

    ALL of the footnotes! Ego-centric blather that did nothing to enhance the story in my opinion.


    Any additional comments?

    This is the first book I stopped listening to after the first part. I've been a member for a number of years and generally am very satisfied with the books I purchase. My mind wandered so much due to the boring rhetoric that I couldn't keep the characters straight and repeatedly had to rewind to review. Too much effort for little pay-off. Sorry to be so negative...but this was an epic yawn! Someday I may try to go back and start over...just on principle. I hate to leave a book unfinished.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tracy Clawson, MI, United States 05-02-13
    Tracy Clawson, MI, United States 05-02-13
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    "disappointed"
    What would have made The Accursed better?

    there were far too many "author commentaries" that detracted from the story. And, although I understand it was an historical novel, there we're too many present day references to women being the weaker gender.


    What do you think your next listen will be?

    Another historical piece.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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