Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates

Kelly, an attractive but self-deprecating young woman, meets a prominent politician at a mutual friend’s island vacation home.  Together they leave a dinner party early to catch a ferry back to the mainland, but instead run off the road into a swamp.  The Senator (we never learn the his real name) is able to leave the submerged car, but Kelly is left behind.

Black Water consists entirely of the plaintive stream-of-consciousness wonderings of the doomed Kelly, going through early childhood, her perceptions of past friendships, personal shortcomings, and her future romantic liaison with the Senator.  Oates really gets to the core of the anguish that one can imagine a person in a hopeless situation is going through.  The reader graphically feels Kelly’s hope and hopelessness, her strong urge to survive her water-logged prison.

I have heard of Joyce Carol Oates for years and have never picked up one of her titles until a recent collection called The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares, which I read partially and liked but got distracted from it.  A coworker of mine recommended Black Water as a quick read and a good one.  The subject matter strongly parallels the Chappaquiddick incident in the late 1960s, but Oates places the narrative in the early 1990s and keeps the Senator an anonymous figure. 

Black Water was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1993; if that sells you on it, go and read forth.  It’s a quick read, although a wrenching one.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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