Sunday, March 4, 2018

A Book Of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates

This novel opens with a crime.  Dr. Gus Voorhees has sacrificed much personally and professionally in order to provide abortion services in a small town.  Without him, women have no choices.  He is gunned down in the driveway upon arrival one morning by Luther Dunphy.  Dunphy is an Evangelical Christian and has associated with a group of intense anti-abortionists within the church.  He is encouraged to his action by their insistence that the only way to stop the killing of babies is by eliminating the doctors that perform the procedures.

But Oates does not stop there.  She follows all the participants for many years afterward, showing how one action can start ripples that affect many.  Luther is arrested and tried, convicted and eventually put to death.  The families are left behind to make what they will of the deaths and to try to forge a new life for themselves.

Dawn Dunphy believes her father is a hero.  Never good in school or popular, she is scorned even more after what her father does.  Her mother retreats into her religion, leaving Dawn to make what she will of her life.  What she decides to do is become a woman boxer and let her fights express the pain and confusion she feels.

Naomi Voorhees is broken by grief.  Her mother cannot cope and gives her children to their grandparents to raise.  Naomi idolizes her father.  After college, she becomes a documentary maker or at least is working towards that.  At first, she wants to make a documentary about her father and what his death meant but she decides to change focus.  While researching the crime, she learns that Dawn is now D. D. Dunphy, Warrior for Jesus and decides to attend a fight.  Her focus changes and she becomes interested in D.D.  At first she is repulsed by her but cannot stay away and suddenly, understanding her life is what Naomi wants to do. 

This is an important, thought-provoking novel.  Oates outlines both sides of an issue that continues to tear America apart.  Each side believes that they have the absolute truth of the issue and that sacrifices are necessary in order to bring success to their side.  Oates writes about the fallout of such viewpoints and in today's divided nation, the insights she provides are useful regardless of the issue that separates people and families.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

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