It absolutely surprises me that Joyce Carol Oates has been publishing since 1964 and that this book was the first that I had ever written by her because it is apparent that she is a careful, adept and fluent writer. This book is set in Carthage, a very real town in upstate NY, nearly as far North as you can get without entering into Canada. It is a small town, so the shock that runs throughout the town and the Mayfield family when their somewhat dysfunctional 19 year old daughter Cressida disappears in the Adirondack Mountains is a living and palpable feeling. As the community gathers and begins the search for her, evidence against a disabled Iraq war veteran named Brett Kincaid (who ironically was engaged to be married to Cressida's older sister) seems to mount.
During the course of the novel, we are treated to alternating perspectives, one of which includes the flashbacks to the atrocities that Kincaid witnessed while he was in the service. His memories are often jumbled with the violence that occurs in Carthage and intrudes on everything in his new, quiet life in Carthage. The plot often takes bizarre and unexpected turns, just enough so that the reader is kept on the edge of the seat as much by those turns as by Oates' magnificent prose. There were times that I felt that it was hard to empathize with some of the characters and the choices that they made; however this didn't detract from the message that the novel was sending: that the damage that war wrought is complex and tears at every fiber of the fabric of our society. It impacts everything from the individual to the family unit to the criminal justice system. Loved this book. It's something that should be added to your library immediately.