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Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates

Black Water

by Joyce Carol Oates

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When this book was first published in 1992, I was aware of it but afraid to read it. I thought a fictionalized retelling of the Chappaquiddick incident, including a detailed description of the heroine's agonizing death by drowning, would be too much for me. But now I have read this short novel--it took less than a day-- and I found it to be very well done.

The story has been moved from 1969 to the early 1990s. Kelly (the Mary Jo Kopechne stand in) meets the prominent figure known only as The Senator at an upper-crust Fourth of July party. Amazed that she has attracted the great man's attention, she agrees to get into his car with him, even though she knows he's been drinking all day. When the inevitable happens, Kelly doesn't realize, although the reader does, that the Senator will betray her in a misguided effort to keep his presidential hopes alive.

Oates skillfully moves the narrative between Kelly's past, the party she has just left, and her horrifying wait the in the Senator's submerged vehicle. This sad but artful story is highly recommended, if you are in the mood for this type of thing. ( )
  akblanchard | Jul 9, 2015 |
In my sweet spot. A problematic but sort of feminist, death and other stuff you can't know about obsessed fool's errand. Quick and troubling read. Very JCO. Equal parts How Dare She and Thank God For Her. This hijacking of other people's real life pain is far less hideous than others...but probably only because it happened awhile ago? So maybe it isn't less hideous at all?

She blames fewer innocent people? She goes after the dead girl with genune concern? I don't know if I can hit upon a positive statement about this book that I can stand behind. But I feel like JCO is a major contributor to the Dead Girl genre and while her work illustrates many of the pitfalls of the genre--misplacing blame and innocence and meaning, solving fake crimes in order to better live with real ones--she nonetheless helped get the story to the page in the first place. ( )
  wordlikeabell | Feb 16, 2015 |
Economical, to the point writing which gives readers just as much detail as they can possibly handle. And difficult to handle it is, this unfortunate story of a girl, representing so many. Masterfully written, it gives you the chills and stays with you for a while. What ifs, and why mes and once again, what if... Tragically, there are no variable endings, only the most horrific one. ( )
  flydodofly | Jun 20, 2014 |
It is a beautifully written, haunting, fictionalization of the Chappaquiddick Incident. Kelly Kelleher meets The Senator at a July 4 party and accepts a ride with him that ends in tragedy. The entire novella is written as the disjointed, often repetitive stream of thoughts that flow through Kelly's mind as she dies. Each chapter repeats some information, often word-for-word, and adds new elements to create a clearer picture of Kelly and her life, particularly her experience on the day of the accident. Oates uses sparse punctuation and repetition to give flow and urgency to Kelly's internal story:

And how unexpectedly sweet he'd been to her. Kelly Kelleher. So radiant and assured there on the beach, wearing her new glamorously dark sunglasses the lenses scientifically treated to eliminate ultraviolet rays, and she knew she looked good, she was not a beautiful girl but sometimes you know, it's your time and you know, no happiness quite like that happiness.

She was bargaining yes all right she would trade her right leg, even both her legs if they thought it necessary, the emergency rescue team, yes amputate, all right please go ahead, please just do it she would sign the release later, she promised not to sue.

Gripping and wrenching, this story that we want to end differently even though we know from the start where we will finish. It is the telling that made me keep reading, the beautiful language and its relentless flow. This book is one that I will think of as "real literature," and not just popular fiction. Highly recommended. ( )
  glade1 | Mar 17, 2014 |
Fascination book focused on the unfolding of a single event, with multiple time shifts. ( )
  SarahWagner503 | Jan 19, 2014 |
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The rented Toyota, driven with such impatient exuberance by The Senator, was speeding along the unpaved unnamed road, taking the turns in giddy, skidding slides, and then, with no warning, somehow the car had gone off the road and had overturned in black rushing water, listing to its passenger's side, rapidly sinking.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0452269865, Paperback)

Joyce Carol Oates has taken a shocking story that has become an American myth and, from it, has created a novel of electrifying power and illumination. Kelly Kelleher is an idealistic, twenty-six-year-old “good girl” when she meets the Senator at a Fourth of July party. In a brilliantly woven narrative, we enter her past and her present, her mind and her body as she is fatally attracted to this older man, this hero, this soon-to-be-lover. Kelly becomes the very embodiment of the vulnerable, romantic dreams of bright and brave women, drawn to the power that certain men command—at a party that takes on the quality of a surreal nightmare; in a tragic car ride that we hope against hope will not end as we know it must end. One of the acknowledged masters of American fiction, Joyce Carol Oates has written a bold tour de force that parts the black water to reveal the profoundest depths of human truth.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:29 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Flattered by the attentions of a senator she has met at a Fourth of July beach party on Grayling Island, Kelly Kelleher accepts a ride from him, taking a first step toward her final confrontation with death.

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