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Joyce Carol Oates: A Bloodsmoor Romance

I think this might be where Oates started to lose me. Starting with the cover, it is too much like one of those Gothic romances, sold as being slightly risqué to genteel ladies. Not being a genteel lady, I have never enjoyed that type of work and, to be frank, I did not really enjoy this one. It tells the story of the Zinn family in late nineteenth century Pennsylvania. John Henry Zinn is an inventor. He has four daughters and adopts a fifth, Deirdre. Deirdre is kidnapped by a black balloon in 1879 and the remaining four are left to seek out suitable husbands. Two of them make difficult marriages. Octavia, who develops prematurely, marries a reverend who is into sadomasochism, including the traditional pulling a rope round the neck to enhance sexual pleasure. Of course, it works too well but frees Octavia from her husband. Constance Phillipa marries a thrice widowered baron but is able to escape his violent sexual approaches by planting a tailor’s dummy in her bed. The other two run away, one to marry an apprentice beneath her class and the other to the stage where she is courted by Grover Cleveland and Mark Twain, amongst others. Deirdre becomes a spiritualist but we later learn that she is the love child of Aunt Edwina who had preached morality to the girls. This inspires Prudence, the girl’s mother, who had urged them not to think at all during sex, to become a suffragette. Meanwhile, their father invents the electric chair. As a good romance novel, it all ends happily. It is light-hearted and fun but not one of her best by any means.

Publishing history

First published 1982 by Dutton