Joyce Carol Oates reviews Edna O’Brien’s novel The Little Red Chairs in the New York Times Book Review:

510g+yfHtnLBut O’Brien is not interested in sensationalizing her material, and “The Little Red Chairs” is not a novel of suspense, still less a mystery or a thriller; it is something more challenging, a work of meditation and penance. How does one come to terms with one’s own complicity in evil, even if that complicity is “innocent”? Should we trust the stranger who arrives out of nowhere in our community? Should we mistrust the stranger? When is innocence self-destructive? Given the nature of the world, when is skepticism, even cynicism, justified? Much is made of innocence in fiction, as in life, but in O’Brien’s unsentimental imagination the innocent suffer greatly because they are not distrustful enough; and usually these innocents are girls and young women, as in O’Brien’s compelling novel “Down by the River” (1997), in which a young rural Irish girl is ­impregnated by her father and further humiliated by being forced to endure the public politicization of her pregnancy by people on both sides of the abortion debate. As one of O’Brien’s female characters has said of her native Ireland: “Ours indeed was a land of shame, a land of murder and a land of strange sacrificial women.”

Read the full review.


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