Cover image for The barrens
The barrens
Smith, Rosamond.
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Publication Information:
New York : Carroll & Graf Pub., [2001]

Physical Description:
296 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
"An Otto Penzler book."
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In this gripping psychological thriller, Joyce Carol Oates, New York Times best-selling author and one of the most versatile and original voices in contemporary American fiction, delivers a startling, complex tale of a serial killer and the people that his ghastly crimes touch--and transform. People like Matt McBride. Matt was barely out of junior high when the mutilated body of the first victim--a popular, pretty teenager--was uncovered in the desolate New Jersey Pine Barrens.Although he had hardly known the girl, Matt has long felt guilty at not having been able somehow to prevent the atrocity. Now another attractive young woman has disappeared, and Matt knew this victim, too. Just possibly he knew her more intimately than he is prepared to admit. By degrees Matt becomes obsessed with a guilt he can neither comprehend nor assuage. His seemingly happy marriage begins to deteriorate, while his increasingly erratic behavior heightens police suspicions. It also draws official attention away from an artist--a man of limited talent but of fierce, demented vision--who signs his work Name Unknown. Under the spell of the missing woman, Matt follows a path that leads him out of the maze of tortured memory to a confrontation with not only the baleful Name Unknown but also his own long-unacknowledged self. The outcome is shattering. With "murder as an art and the serial killer as an artist," National Book Award-winner Joyce Carol Oates shows "how a murderer's savage creations ... transform a man's life."--Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times "Oates fans may judge [The Barrens] the best Smith novel yet."--Boston Herald

Author Notes

Joyce Carol Oates was born in 1938 in Upstate, New York. She attended Syracuse University and graduated as Valedictorian. She then attended University of Wisconsin where she earned an M. A.

By the time she was 47 years old, she had published at least that many separate books, including 16 full-length novels and more than a dozen collections of short stories. Some of her works were done under the pseudonym Rosamund Smith. She has also written numerous poems collected in several volumes, at least three plays, many critical essays, and articles and reviews on various subjects while fulfilling her obligations as a professor of English at the University of Windsor, where with her husband Raymond Smith she edited the Ontario Review, which the couple has continued since moving to Princeton in 1978. She has earned a reputation as indubitably one of our most prolific writers and very likely one of our best.

Her fiction alone demonstrates considerable variety, ranging from direct naturalism to complex experiments in form. However, what chiefly makes her work her own is a quality of psychological realism, an uncanny ability to bring to the surface an underlying sense of foreboding or a threat of violence that seems to lurk just around the corner from the everyday domestic lives she depicts so realistically. Her first six novels, including Them (1969), which won the National Book Award, express these qualities in varying ways. she is also the recipient of an NEA grant, a Guggenheim fellowship, the PEN/Malamud Lifetime Achievement Award, and the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Lifetime Achievement in American Literature.

She resides in New Jersey.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

On the heels of a short-story collection, Faithless [BKL F 1 01], the madly prolific Joyce Carol Oates turns in her eighth psychological suspense novel under the pseudonym she reserves for that genre. Mathias McBride is a successful realtor living in a tony New Jersey suburb far removed from the bleakness of his hardscrabble childhood; as a sideline, he takes arty urban photographs, often with grisly themes, and sells them under the name Nighthawk. Then he is interrogated by two homicide detectives investigating the disappearance of eccentric artist Duana Zolle, and his life takes a drastic turn. Although he has had only fleeting contact with the collage artist, it seems he plays a featured role in her diary--she was obsessed with him and saw him as a kindred spirit. Even as McBride's outward life begins to crumble under the stress of the investigation, he gains new insight into his emotional life and his art and begins his own investigation into Zolle's disappearance, which brings him into the demented world of an amateur artist. Although her plotting is feverish and over the top, Oates gives vivid expression here to the themes that seem to drive all of her work--sexual guilt, the nature of perception, the false self. She brings high emotion to her narrative, and the result is compelling reading. --Joanne Wilkinson

Publisher's Weekly Review

A serial killer and his pursuer engage in a lurid dance in this overextended psychological thriller written under the name Oates uses for her psycho-dramas (like Double Delight). The novel charts the emotional ruin of Matt McBride, a real estate agent in the upscale New Jersey suburb of Weymouth, where he lives with his attractive wife and their two sons. McBride has been haunted since childhood by the memory of a high school classmate whose body was found ravaged in the desolate Pine Barrens. Now, 20 years later, McBride becomes a suspect in the disappearance of local artist Duana Zwoll, a woman whom McBride knew and admired. Although McBride manages to convince the police of his innocence, he remains wracked by guilt that a second female acquaintance has met a ghastly end. As his marriage slowly crumbles, McBride fixates on finding the killer. He narrows his search to another local artist, the marginally talented yet ghoulishly eccentric Joseph Gavin, whose artwork appears to incorporate human body parts. Could he be the man responsible for the deaths of countless East Coast women in recent years? It's a testament to Oates's skill that the suspense is instant and intense. Her setting, which contrasts Weymouth's chi-chi facade with the tormented lives of its residents, is exquisite, as is her treatment of McBride's personal tailspin. Yet the motivation for his obsessive quest for the killer guilt at being unable to prevent two murders never quite convinces. Nor does the character of Gavin, whose repetitive spiritual rants and egomania bloat the story and make him more a figure of absurdity than a credible threat to human life. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Writing under an accustomed pseudonym, Oates offers a psychological thriller that isn't so much about the actual murders as a bystander's obsession with them. Matt McBride has had a lifelong preoccupation with the unsolved abduction and murder of a high school acquaintance. When an artist friend is murdered in a similar fashion, the obsession grows to the point of completely taking over McBride's life, destroying his marriage and career in the process. His uncommon interest and some incriminating evidence found in the victim's home make him a suspect in the eyes of the police. The story is taut, though the author misses several opportunities to capitalize on the circumstances she sets up. After over 200 pages of buildup, the resolution of the multiple murders comes so swiftly that it disappoints and leaves many questions unanswered. But the story seems to be more about missed opportunities, and the ending fits the flawed characters that Oates is so expert at creating. Recommended for all public libraries. Caroline Mann, Univ. of Portland Lib., OR (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Where she'd died wasn't where she would be found. That was one of the few facts they would learn.     A coastal marsh near the south Jersey shore, at the edge of the Pine Barrens. Where the incoming tide lifts the body, buoys it up then surrenders it by degrees back to the marsh. Like sleeping it must seem. To the dead girl. This slow rhythmic rising and ebbing, rising and ebbing of the tide. Like breathing. A stinging northeast wind off the Atlantic pushing through cattails, seagrass. By night, by day. Dusk, dawn. A ceaseless wind. A rain-swollen sky. Even by day the swamp is shadows. When the tide returns the body seems to awaken, floating again in shallow brackish water that has frozen on its surface, and now thaws, a dark glitter thin as the thinnest glass. A stippled surface in which filaments of cloud are reflected dimly. By night, a glaring full moon. High-scudding broken clouds. As if part of the sky had been dislodged and was being blown from one pole to the other. Always the wind, always the tide! While the naked, broken body lies on its back in the posture of sleep. Head turned too sharply to one side. The mouth is opened in a mute scream. A paralyzed scream. The mouth is a hole ridged in blood. The nose has been smashed, the jaws broken. The eyes are open in their blackened sockets, sightless. Long tangled hair rippling like seaweed when the coastal water returns. Always the tide returns, twice daily, in a quickened current, in gushes. The sun burns through the mist, the body is exposed. A dead body is a broken thing. Among so many broken things. Stumps of dead trees, dead vines. The naked, broken body is stirred by the incoming tide as if waking, returning to life. But scummy with coagulated blood. Dark patches defacing the body like swaths of tar. Bony wrists and ankles bound by wire. The lacerated throat bound by wire cutting so deep into the flesh the wire isn't visible. Gulls swooping overhead, darting, stabbing with their sharp curved beaks. Their high, excited cries. Who would love this body now, who would dream of this body now?     Who would touch this body, now? Excerpted from THE BARRENS by JOYCE CAROL OATES. Copyright © 2001 by Joyce Carol Oates. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.