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Joyce Carol Oates: The Assassins

This novel is about the Petrie family. Andrew Petrie is a well-known right-wing politician who has apparently been assassinated. His story and how his death affected them is told by the three people closest to him – his widow and his two brothers. Of course, their respective stories are as much about themselves as about Andrew Petrie. The stories are made more complicated by the fact that not only are they giving their own point of view or, if you will, the story is filtered through their own biases (which are strong) but that they do not always tell the truth. Yvonne, his widow, for example, is very much concerned with protecting her husband’s reputation. She clearly worshipped him and tries to continue his work though she clearly is not up to it. Hugh, his brother, is a professional cartoonist. He is also a liar, mentally unstable and sees everything as a joke, including his brother’s death and his own suicide. Stephen, the youngest brother, is very different. He is a saintly man and concerned more with his relation to God than to his brothers. Somehow, the whole thing does not gel. It may be that because there is no central point, no fixed point of reference to determine who Andrew really is, or because none of three is even vaguely objective that we never really get a sense of who Andrew is and it leaves us wondering what we do not know and should know. It is not a bad book but not one of her best.

Publishing history

First published 1975 by Vanguard Press