Joyce Carol Oates (2017) A Book of American Martyrs.

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Books don’t usually have corners. But (I guess) this one does. That’s one of the things that (kinda) annoyed me, Joyce Carol Oates has a tended to add extra bits of information in brackets. Her writing style didn’t (really) annoy me. What annoyed me was I felt the book was too long.

War and Peace and the rebirth of the Russian nation as a leading European power in 1815 took less of a word count than it took for Soldier of God, Luther Amos Dunphy to shoot and kill Augustus Voorhees  and his escort, a retired Vietnam veteran and the blow back that ensues.

Edna Mae, Luther’s wife, finally works it out for herself. ‘Her Luther had killed two men in cold blood as a way of ending her marriage and changing his life utterly.’

A reader can, of course, leave a book at any time. We are not required to push (relentlessly) forward in the way that Luther’s daughter, Dawn, D.D. Dunphy, The Hammer of Christ, moves in the boxing ring. Here’s where I come to the (provisional) idea of corners.

I didn’t find Dawn or Edna Mae or indeed much of Dunphy family, who have their mirror image in the rich and educated life (and times) of the Voorhees’s family, convincing. I also scoffed at Jenna Voorhees, Gus’s wife, and mother of little Naomi, aged around twelve, after the killing telling her she could no longer be her mum and driving away. Dickensian Dawn Dunphy, however, fills out as a character when she begins boxing. Joyce Carol Oates is an expert on boxing.

I was  also intrigued with botched State killings on Death Row and the rise of hate-mongering American right. The election of the moron’s moron in  Trump country makes a dumb  (kinda) sense when you read these these pages. (The patience of Job needed).

Similarly, I turned a page and came to another corner, in which Dunphy believes himself to be touched by God and applies to become a minister. It’s a simple year-long course in ordained hate. Hate outsiders. Hate women. Hate science and love the lord. And of course, hate baby killers that perform abortions like Dr Voorhees. But Dunphy is not academically gifted enough to pay his fee and pass his exam and become one of God’s chosen.  The belief that god stands over and marries the two haploid  cells inside the womb in that first division of those that believe it is just a collection of cells and those that believe it to be a baby. Language is instructive. Cancerous cells need to be excised cut out, but baby cells need to be breed because ‘No baby chooses to die.’ (No cancer cell chooses to die either.)

Dr Voorhoo’s half-brother (who should have been aborted on the page) points out fairy- tale endings are something added on, like the resurrection of Christ, but both Dr Voorheese and Dunphy were fanatics and willing to put their life on the line. Different sides of the same coin.  American Martyrs.  (Ho-hum, coming to a clinic near you soon. Already appearing on London streets.)

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