Book Review: Pursuit by Joyce Carol Oates

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Title: Pursuit

Author: Joyce Carol Oates

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Number of Pages: 216

Rating: B+

Recommended?: Yes



Okay, I know the cover art is pretty lame but honestly this one of my favorite Joyce Carol Oates novels I’ve read so far. Maybe a lot of it covers familiar territory for her (screwed-up protagonist, unrelentingly bleak tone, shithead men,) but it still had my attention from start to finish. Pursuit is about a woman whose demented childhood has left her rather fragile and full of anxiety and undeserved guilt. The woman’s name is Abby and while she has a pretty docile and quiet personality, nobody knows who she really is or where she came from.



She’s married a clean-cut religious young man named Willem, who possibly means well but also unwaveringly believes he knows what’s best for his young bride. Abby is showing signs of PTSD all over the place and then she steps in the road and is hit by a bus, causing blunt head trauma and leaving her hospitalized long term for her injuries. Piece by piece, Willem begins to discover the truth behind Abby’s horrific past and the devastating emotional damage she’s hidden within herself for years.



A lot of this story is told through flashback, leaving lots of hints until we finally begin to see the bigger picture of what happened to Abby. The last chapters are really disturbing and hard to read, mostly because of the stomach-turning, prolonged suffering a dying character is subjected to. We feel like we’re in that person’s head when it’s happening too, which makes it even worse (hey, it’s not like you’d expect any different from Joyce Carol Oates.) The chapters that give us a look into Abby’s father’s head made me squirm, probably because they seemed very real to me as far as fictional sociopaths go.


It’s also not as over-the-top as some of her other work tends to be but I still felt an undercurrent of man-hating running throughout. I don’t know if Joyce Carol Oates has had terrible experiences with most of the men in her life or if thematically this kind of thing is just what she’s into. Honestly, it gets a little tiresome but her writing just keeps me coming back. Pursuit is a quick read and for me it was almost impossible to put down, because the foreshadowing was so intense that it basically pulls you through just over 200 pages regardless of whether you have things you need to do or not. If you like Joyce Carol Oates’ books or if you just like dark books about messed-up human minds, you’ll probably enjoy this.

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