A Bloodsmoor Romance by Joyce Carol Oates
Ecco Press (paperback), 1982
BLURB FROM THE COVER
FINALLY RETURNED TO PRINT, JOYCE CAROL OATES’S LOST CLASSIC: THE SATIRICAL, OFTEN SURREAL, AND BEAUTIFULLY PLOTTED GOTHIC ROMANCE THAT FOLLOWS THE EXPLOITS OF THE AUDACIOUS ZINN SISTERS, WHOSE NINETEENTH-CENTURY PURSUIT OF ADVENTUROUS LIVES TURNS A LENS ON CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN CULTURE.
When their sister is plucked from the shores of the Bloodsmoor River by an eerie black-silk hot air balloon that sails in through a clear blue sky, the lives of the already extraordinary Zinn sisters are radically altered. The monstrous tragedy splinters the family, who must not only grapple with the mysterious and shameful loss of their sister and daughter but also seek their way forward in the dawn of a new era—one that includes time machines, the spirit world, and the quest for women’s independence.
Breathlessly narrated in the Victorian style by an unnamed narrator who is herself shocked and disgusted by the Zinn sisters’ sexuality, impulsivity, and rude rejection of the mores of the time, the novel is a delicious filigree of literary conventions, “a novel of manners” in the tradition of Austen, Dickens, and Alcott, which Oates turns on its head. Years ahead of its time, A Bloodsmoor Romance touches on murder and mayhem, ghosts and abductions, substance abuse and gender identity, women’s suffrage, the American spiritualist movement, and sexual aberration, as the Zinn sisters come into contact with some of the nineteenth century’s greatest characters, from Mark Twain to Oscar Wilde.
Pure Oates in its mordant wit, biting assessment of the American landscape, and virtuosic transformation of a literary genre we thought we knew, A Bloodsmoor Romance is a compelling, hilarious, and magical anti-romance, a Little Women wickedly recast for the present day.
Our history of the remarkable Zinn family, to end upon the final bold stroke of midnight, December 31, 1899, begins some twenty years earlier, on that beauteous September afternoon, in the golden haze of autumn, 1879 – ah, now so long past – when, to the confus’d shame and horror of her loving family, and the consternation of all of Bloodsmoor, Miss Deirdre Louisa Zinn, the adopted daughter of Mr and Mrs John Quincy Zinn, betook herself on an impetuous walk, with no companion, and was, by daylight, abducted from the grounds belonging to the stately home of her grandparents, historic old Kiddermaster Hall.
I really enjoyed A Bloodsmoor Romance. JCO offers a huge, multi-layered epic gothic novel. A Bloodsmoor Romance touches on almost every gothic plot you can think of. There’s romance, of course. Murder. Madness. Mayhem. Ghosts and things that rattle in the night. A sweeping family saga with a little touch of betrayal, lost love and regret. A Bloodsmoor Romance reminded me to an extent of Little Women. I found the Zinn sisters and their various fates fascinating. Deirdre’s abduction sets in motion a chain of events that rips a hole in the life of the Zinn’s with various other sisters running off to follow their hearts and pursue life and passion as far away from Bloodsmoor and the rest of the Zinn family as possible. A Bloodsmoor Romance is narrated by an outsider, someone who knew the family well and seems to relish in sharing the gossip of the various scandals and tragedies that befell them starting when Deirdre was taken. I thought this was an unusual choice of narrator but JCO makes it work really well. I could imagine some old spinster sneering with glee as she filled pages and pages with the scandal and downfall of the Zinn family, cackling now and then. I found the language used in A Bloodsmoor Romance a bit difficult to get to grips with at first. The prose is quite dense and I found it a bit of a hard slog for the first hundred pages or so. There’s just so much going on in A Bloodsmoor Romance that the language soon stopped being a barrier.
The Mortal Instruments Book Five: City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare