By Joyce Carol Oates

New York: Mysterious Press, 2023
297 Pages

48clues“Even if Marguerite is no longer living still she has got to be somewhere.”

What has become of Marguerite Fulmer? On an otherwise average day in Upstate New York, the young woman left her family home, never to return. No note was left, no explanation; just a messy bedroom and her sister Gigi, driven to dig through the meager clues and discover the truth behind her disappearance.

As the investigation unfolds, every subtle bit of evidence becomes a potential clue. The silk Dior slip dress, left in a heap on the floor; the impression of Ferragamo boots outside in the dirt, a trail of footsteps that abruptly ends before it leaves the yard. And as Gigi trails the detectives, she finds previously unknown troubles in the life of her perfect, gorgeous, much-loved sister—troubles that at times seem to reflect her own.

Bit by bit, like ripping the petals off a flower blossom, a dark truth is revealed. And subtly, but with the unbearable suspense at which Joyce Carol Oates excels, clues mount and bring to light the fate of the missing beauty.


Chaos/clues. In our cold climate snow flurries are common in April. Snowflakes swirling in a chaos like clues in the wake of a mystery.

It is terrible to see, to realize, that the world is a chaos of clues.

Where there is no body, only a missing body. Where there is no assurance that the missing body is even alive.

Why was I the only person to recognize that the Prada wallet wasn’t a clue but an anti-clue? That is, an item that purports to be a “clue” in the jigsaw puzzle of the mystery of M.’s disappearance but was, in fact, an “anti-clue”—a stratagem to confuse, not enlighten.

A trap to lead detectives into thinking that M. had been abducted, and her wallet tossed out the window of a vehicle headed for the Thruway. Probably.

Skeptical G. knows better: there would be no logic to tossing the wallet of an abducted woman out the window of a speeding car headed for the entrance of the Thruway. For why?

Obviously, staged. And why staged?—to mislead.

To make detectives think that the missing person is somewhere other than Aurora. To make detectives think that a crime has been committed and not a “voluntary” absence of the seemingly missing person.

Other clues the detectives may have missed. But G., perusing M’s calendar since the start of 1991, noted.

Frequent pencil-notations on the calendar. Like anyone’s calendar.

Amid a welter of notations of no interest, this for April 8 caught my eye: “MAM: 9 A.M.”

And, for March 29: “MAM: 11 A.M.”

Of course, I didn’t mention this to anyone. My interactions with the detectives were as infrequent as I could make them without arousing suspicion.

Book Covers

reviews, starts, 5Reviews

Publisher’s Weekly, January 23, 2023, page 52
5 stars
This elegant, captivating tale is un-put-downable.

David Pitt, Booklist, February 15, 2023
5 stars
Oates’ latest foray into crime fiction is another masterpiece of storytelling …. So much more than the kind of standard-issue unreliable narrator, Georgene is a vastly complex character whose every word, every use of parentheses and italics, must be examined closely for intent. A thematically and stylistically ambitious novel that displays the author’s literary gifts to their maximum effect.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2023
4 stars
A kaleidoscopic portrait of an unforgettable woman whose memory everyone honors only by distorting it.

Laury A. Egan, New York Journal of Books
4 stars
Oates has fashioned a genre of her own: a form of literary suspense that utilizes psychological glimpses into disturbed minds and feeds on the bizarre relationships between people. While a compelling read, it is not a true crime novel, though it might be categorized as an oblique mystery. Shifting ambiguity replaces a sense of imminent danger, so the book’s attraction is the sleight-of-hand displayed by Georgene rather than by hooking the reader with fast action.

Sarah Weinman, New York Times Book Review, March 26, 2023, page 9
3 stars
But what could have been an unnerving tale is marred by truly puzzling stylistic choices (so many parentheticals, one after another!). Still, even a subpar Oates novel unmoors me and makes me wonder what will arrive next.

blakelock2Image: Ralph Albert Blakelock, “Night Glow”

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