By Joyce Carol Oates

The Senator. The girl. The Fourth of July party on the island. The ride through the night. The accident. The death by water.

Black Water
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: Dutton
Year: 1992
Pages: 154

Joyce Carol Oates has taken a shocking story that has become an american myth and, from it, has created a novel of electrifying power and illumination. The point of view is that of the girl herself, Kelly Kelleher. We enter her past and her present, her mind and her body, in a brilliantly woven narrative that transforms and transfigures this young woman fatally attracted to this older man, this hero, this father figure, this soon-to-be lover. Kelly becomes the very embodiment of a woman’s longing and vulnerability—at a party that takes on the quality of a surreal nightmare; in a car ride that we hope against hope will not end as we know it must end. Her voice echoes with the dimension of classic tragedy as she seems to speak for women drawn to the power that certain men command, drugged by romantic dreams no matter how bright and brave these women may be.

Joyce Carol Oates is one of the acknowledged masters of American fiction. In Black Water, she has written her boldest and most brilliant novel yet. More than a roman a clef, more even than the tour de force it most certainly is, it parts the black water to reveal the profoundest depths of human truth.


He was gone but would come back to save her.

He was gone having swum to shore to cry for help . . . or was he lying on the weedy embankment vomiting water in helpless spasms drawing his breath deep, deep to summon his strength and manly courage preparatory to returning to the black water to dive down to the submerged car like a capsized beetle helpless and precariously balanced on its side in the soft muck of the riverbed where his trapped and terrified passenger waited for him to save her, waited for him to return to open the door to pull her out to save her: was that the way it would happen?

I’m here. I’m here. Here.


  • Pulitzer Prize finalist
    “In ‘Black Water,’ Joyce Carol Oates accomplishes the difficult task of turning a recent tragedy in American history—one clouded by mystery—into drama that suggests the passions, fears, and moment-by-moment decisions that produced it. Clearly, this is her boldest novel, not because her characters will be compared to Senator Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne, but rather because she has given a compelling voice to the woman who is the victim in her story, and by doing so enriches—and puts a human face on—someone marginalized in our cultural imagination. Elegantly written and haunting, ‘Black Water’ is that rarest of novels: a fiction that goes beneath the historical record and newspaper headlines to unearth the truth of the human heart.” —Pulitzer Prize Jury
  • National Book Critics Circle Award finalist
  • New York Times Notable Books of the Year

 Book Covers



  • Booklist, February 15, 1992, p1066
  • Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 1992, p210
  • Publisher’s Weekly, March 9, 1992, p47
  • Library Journal, April 1, 1992, p151
  • Chicago Tribune, April 9, 1992 5, 1
  • New York Times, April 24, 1992, C31
  • Detroit News & Free Press, April 26, 1992, F7
  • Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1992, 14, 5
  • Denver Post, May 3, 1992, D8
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 3, 1992, C5
  • Atlanta Journal Constitution, May 10, 1992, N8
  • Los Angeles Time Book Review, May 10, 1992, p2
  • New York Times Book Review, May 10, 1992, p1+
  • San Francisco Chronicle, May 11, 1992, E1
  • USA Today, May 15, 1992, D10
  • Washington Post Book World, May 17, 1992, p11
  • Newsweek, May 18, 1992, p75
  • Detroit News, May 20, 1992, C3
  • Houston Post, May 24, 1992, C4
  • Maclean’s, June 8, 1992, p51
  • National Review, June 8, 1992, p51+
  • Washington Post, June 17, 1992, B1
  • American Spectator, July 1992, p60
  • Economist, July 25, 1992, p85
  • New Yorker, August 10, 1992, p79
  • Times Literary Supplement, October 16, 1992, p22
  • New Statesman & Society, October 30, 1992, p42
  • School Library Journal, November 1992, p144
  • School Library Journal, December 1992, p25
  • Illustrated London News, Xmas 1992, p98
  • Armchair Detective, Spring 1993, p107+
  • World Literature Today, Sprint 1993, p382
  • Observer, January 23, 1994, p22


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