A Novel of Suspense by Joyce Carol Oates
From a master “mind reader who writes psychological horror stories about seriously disturbed minds” (New York Times Book Review), comes an eerie, psychologically complex thriller about a newlywed wife haunted by her secret, traumatic past.
As a child, Abby had the same recurring nightmare night after night, in which she wandered through a field ridden with human skulls and bones. Now an adult, Abby thinks she’s outgrown her demons. But the evening before her wedding, the terrible dream returns and forces her to confront the dark secrets from her past she has kept from her new husband, Willem. The following day—less than twenty-four hours after exchanging vows—Abby steps out into traffic. As his wife lies in her hospital bed, sleeping in fits and starts, Willem tries to determine whether this was an absentminded accident or a premeditated plunge, and he quickly discovers a mysterious set of clues about what his wife might be hiding. Why is there a rash-like red mark circling her wrist? What does she dream about that causes her to wake from the sound of her own screams?
Slowly, Abby begins to open up to her husband, revealing to him what she has never shared with anyone before—the story of a terrified mother; a jealous, drug addled father; and a daughter’s harrowing captivity.
With a suspenseful, alternating narrative that travels back and forth between the present and Abby’s tortured childhood, Pursuit is a meticulously crafted, deeply disquieting tale that showcases Oates’s masterful storytelling.
Saw but didn’t see. She’d learn to unsee.
Bones in the grass. Just—scattered.
Looking like animal bones. At first.
But no. A shape to it: (human) skeleton.
No. Two (human) skeletons.
Rotted clothing, a single rotted shoe looking like it is mid-kick.
Too soon in her life. She is only a child of eight.
Too young to know the word skeleton.
Her face smarts from sunburn. Her eyes are fiery in their sockets, and she will never, ever be able to close her eyes again …
The bones are everywhere in the tall grasses. Her eyes are frantic not to see, but she sees.
Bones have been carried downstream in the creek. Caught amid rocks, boulders. Sun-bleached and as bright as shouts.
Terrified of stepping on the bones. No!
It is very bad to step on the bones, for the bones are helpless in the tall grass where they have fallen or been dragged. Though she is only eight years old, she knows this.
As she recognizes the Daddy-skull, which is peering up at her.
You! What’d I tell you, Princess.
Did you think I’d forget you?
And here is the Mommy-skull, pleading.
Oh honey—I didn’t leave you. I never left you …
In horror she sees: finger bones, mixed together.
She sees: something gleaming in the grass. Is it a ring?—a small ring, a badly tarnished silver ring with a pale, cracked stone.
And now she sees: the ugly, rusted things for which she has not (yet) a name, too young to know the name, which will come to her years later while watching a crime program on TV in her aunt Traci’s house in Chautauqua Falls.
Erik K. Anderson, Bearing Witness: Joyce Carol Oates Studies, volume 5, 2019-2020
Entirely different narratives coexist and compete for the reader’s understanding of what is true. A similar strategy is taken in Pursuit where the reader is hauntingly left to wonder whose reality we’re inhabiting. The world warps and the truth remains teasingly out of reach because the characters are so intent on reshaping their own stories. It is chilling and effective in its ability to disturb and leave the reader desperately searching for clues.
Thomas Pluck, Criminal Element, September 18, 2019
The mystery is deep, and our fairy-tale prince and princess have a long journey to defeat the monsters that haunt her so she can be free. In Pursuit, we see the modern horror of aggrieved men committing murder-suicide as the atrocity behind a fairy-tale archetype of the sleeping beauty, woken by a kiss, saved by a man who believes her.
Carol Haggas, Booklist, September 1, 2019
Staccato pacing and Oates’ deftly malevolent yet nuanced characterizations contribute to this fast-paced examination of the destructive and restorative nature of obsessive love.
Publishers Weekly, July 26, 2019
Oates reinforces her place as the grand mistress of ghoulishness.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2019
A compelling domestic horror story reaches into a young woman’s nightmares of her childhood in search of what’s real.
Emily Gray Tedrowe, USA Today, October 1, 2019
The short, spare “Pursuit” succeeds on the level of its ambition: creepy, violent and occasionally affecting.
Christine M. Irvin, Bookreporter, October 19, 2019
Joyce Carol Oates writes in a fast-paced style, taking readers quickly through scenes that change from speaker to speaker and time frame to time frame. As a result, it is difficult at times to keep up with the storyline. Still, THE PURSUIT is an intriguing novel that is definitely worth reading, especially if you are a fan of this legendary, award-winning author.
Birmingham Mail, November 2, 2019
Joyce Carol Oates is back on familiar territory, pitting toxic masculinity against a trembling, fragile female protagonist in this gripping and gruesome novel.