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A Book of American Martyrs

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  3,954 ratings  ·  660 reviews
A powerfully resonant and provocative novel from American master and New York Times bestselling author Joyce Carol Oates. In this striking, enormously affecting novel, Joyce Carol Oates tells the story of two very different and yet intimately linked American families.

Luther Dunphy is an ardent Evangelical who envisions himself as acting out God's will when he assassinates
ebook, 752 pages
Published February 7th 2017 by Ecco
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Fiona H This is a typo, otherwise why not also write "Photograph of Luther Voorhees"? Lots of misplaced or missing commas.
There is also an error on the back o…more
This is a typo, otherwise why not also write "Photograph of Luther Voorhees"? Lots of misplaced or missing commas.
There is also an error on the back of the (paperback) book: "When the daughters of the two families, Naomi Voorhees and Dawn Dunphy, glimpse each other at the trial of Luther Dunphy …" Jenna did not let Naomi and Darren attend either of the trials. Naomi and Dawn never met each other until Naomi starts tracking people down and visiting the places where her father had been and she learns Dawn is a boxer. The two don't meet until quite late in the book. They were aware of each other's existence at the time of the trials and but did not meet until years later.(less)

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Paul Bryant
Aug 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
736 pages in 4 days, wow. 500 of them were great, too. But then, well, not so great. Joyce Carol Oates falls into a trap which she carefully dug herself.

The story is about the shotgun murder of an abortionist doctor by an evangelical Christian guy. There have been eleven such murders in the USA between 1993 and 2015. JCO brilliantly narrates this crime from the killer’s point of view and then from everyone else’s. The rest of the book is about how the two families thus gruesomely conjoined cope,
Ron Charles
Jan 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-favorites
Joyce Carol Oates’s new novel, “A Book of American Martyrs,” arrives splattered with our country’s hot blood. As the Republican Congress plots to cripple Planned Parenthood and the right to choose hinges on one vacant Supreme Court seat, “American Martyrs” probes all the wounds of our abortion debate. Indeed, it’s the most relevant book of Oates’s half-century-long career, a powerful reminder that fiction can be as timely as this morning’s tweets but infinitely more illuminating. For as often as ...more
Shannon A
Nov 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I'll be honest: in all my years of selling books, I had never read anything by Joyce Carol Oates. As I sit here in my sublime book-hangover, I can't believe I waited this long to find my way to reading what Oates has given to the literary world. I'm not sure I can write a review worthy enough to express how this raw and striking tale of two families is told.
An exquisite portrait of one most provocative topics of our time told with unexpected and deep intimacy.
May 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
JCO has written a lot of really great books and some not so great ones but I feel like this is her masterpiece. She is unafraid to take on some of the most controversial topics. The book is primarily about an abortion doctor who is shot down in cold blood in his clinic but it it told though the eyes of his daughter as she tries to make sense of it. There is also the the religious nut job who shot him and his experience on death row and quite a bit about one of his daughters who is a female wrest ...more
Feb 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fathers, Be Good to Your Daughters

In Brief:*

Oates steps up to brew a tempest around the debates over legalized abortion in the U.S.--mostly moral now, rather than legal. She gives a chilling voice and multilayering to an assassin "of the Lord," then much less of a character in the killed abortion doctor, as the novel leads up to the murders, followed by excellent alternating chapters showing the tragic and long-lingering aftershocks suffered by the families--focusing on the daughter--of each of
May 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Sarah by: Nathan
Shelves: audio
At the beginning of this book we have the murder of one man by another. The murdered man is an abortion doctor and the second commits the murder believing that it was God's will. We spend quite awhile in the murderer's head and it became quite claustrophobic at times. We hear about his life as a child and then an adult, along with his conversion to Christianity. I admit that I disliked Luther, the murderer, and I struggled with his part the most.

I don't know what Oates's personal beliefs are. Th
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: x03-march-2017
I loved this. Joyce Carol Oates is a master. Every aspect of her writing in this book worked for me. It was thought-provoking. The plot pulled me right through its 700+ pages. The characters were distinct and interesting - I especially liked Dawn. The action scenes were vivid. Language, setting, dialog, structure, voice, style...all the things that I ever think about when I experience "the novel" as an art they are and WOW! I hope that sometime in the next few years, I read the Pulit ...more
Sallie Dunn
The description for this book is accurate: it’s very provocative. Three point five stars for this tragic insight to abortion, abortion providers, and the aftermath when the unspeakable happens. Sort of depressing, the angst experienced by two very different families after Luther Dunphy takes out Gus Vorhees, the doctor who provides women’s health services including abortion in rural Ohio. In case you think I’m writing spoilers, this happens at the very beginning of the story. Really the story of ...more
Apr 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I could not put this book down. For Joyce Carol Oates I will gladly set aside a week but I read it in three days! Coming practically on the heels of Brit Bennett's The Mothers, I was not sure I was ready for another novel on the abortion dispute. But since I have chosen to read and write about books as my form of activism in these divided times, I dove in.

Joyce Carol Oates goes at the issue from a different direction than Brit Bennett did. Here we have two men who are willing, you could even s
Jan 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
From the first page until the last, Oates passionately displays her unique ability to break her readers' hearts. The expression of pain, grief, loss, & the desire for (& still the absence of) redemption keeps one turning the page as if this were a task of utmost importance- the completion of this novel. Her characters, even minor ones, are fully realised, their suffering a vibrant, complex tapestry that is jarring, touching, destructive. This work, this piece of fiction is absolutely vital to an ...more
Mar 05, 2017 rated it liked it
This book was extremely difficult for me to read. As a feminist and supporter of NOW, NARAL, and Planned Parenthood, I had great trouble reading this and had to stop and leave it because it was so painful. I had to return because as an author Oates makes you want to know where she is going.

Oates has touched a place in American history and culture that is like pouring alcohol on an open wound; it hurts like hell but needs to happen for the wound to heal. This book is so appropriate to the times i
The title of this book is a riff on Foxe's Book of Martyrs, popularly known as the Book of English Martyrs, which detailed the suffering of Protestant sects and/or individuals under Catholic rulers of England and Scotland. First published in 1563, the book went through numerous editions (and was plundered for lurid detail by later authors).

Similarly, this book delves in excruciating detail into the suffering -- both immediate/direct and subsequent/collateral -- arising from the deaths of two un
Roman Clodia
Feb 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Is there anyone other than JCO, I wonder, who could have written this book? Opening with the shooting of a doctor who performs abortions by a Christian fundamentalist who figures his act as 'justified homicide' rather than murder (and what of the ex-Army bodyguard who he also shoots?), this goes on to explore not just the emotive issue of a woman's right to control her own body vs. the anti-abortion lobby, but a whole range of other issues: class, education, patriarchy, the death penalty, grief ...more
Jessica Sullivan
This powerful, sprawling novel begins with the murder of an abortion doctor by a right-wing evangelical Christian, then goes on to provide an in-depth character study of the families on both sides, examining the legacy of "martyrdom" and the effect it has on those left behind.

Oates, smartly, refrains from injecting her own moral judgments. Instead, she moves from one character to another, writing them as they perceive themselves and each other, so that we the readers can make our own. This appro
Jul 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Thought provoking, Intense, Real, Gut wrenching, Satisfying, & Heartbreaking literary fiction! My God! Joyce Carol Oates is a genius. She managed to write a novel about a topic that would cause a normal person to lean more to one side. She did not! She didn't cut corners, or sugar coat this issue. And that ending was simply perfect. "Tears" ...more
Tonstant Weader
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature
Joyce Carol Oates does not shy from controversy. A Book of American Martyrs is sure to become one of her most controversial since it centers on that most polarizing of American rifts–abortion. The martyrs in her book are Augustus Vorhees, a dedicated and idealist doctor who dares to offer women the totally legal medical services they need, and Luther Dunphy, the man who killed him for it. Of course, as is often the case, the martyrs merely die, it is their families who are crucified.

While we com
Apr 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: lacpl-ebook

“So it is, the Little Hand clutches at the hearts of all.” (p. 20)

I didn’t much like Joyce Carol Oates’s, A Book of American Martyrs: A Novel. At 740 pages it was far too long; and, to me at least, her characters were, by-and-large, spectacularly uninteresting. Hardly a one among them with whom I’d care to have lunch. So why did I keep coming back and reading/finishing such a less than engaging tale? I can only guess it must have been unrequited optimism on
Feb 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars.

If recent history has taught us anything it's that the United States is a country more divided by its freedoms than aligned to them. For every bit of progress made to close the gap between the left and right, to embrace the independence many take for granted, there will always be hot button topics to which a middle ground may never be established. 40 years after the landmark Roe v Wade case made abortion legal we are still either for or against it. And passionately so.

A Book of Americ
Krystelle Zuanic
Jul 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is my first ever experience with a Joyce Carol Oates novel, and I have to say that I'm very, very impressed. This book follows so many social issues, but primarily the murder of an abortionist in a small town by a religious man who truly believes he is carrying out the will of G-d, and the aftershocks that the shooting causes. It is over 700 pages, and I could not put it down. I finished it in a day, and didn't want it to end. The cross-section of human life and pain is so wonderfully ...more
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobooks
One of the most thought-provoking novels that I've ever up in the middle of the night kind of thoughts. I have a few things to say on this one that are not completely redundant to other reviews, to follow when I have more time.

After thinking for awhile, I have to say that I think that the point of this novel is not about the repulsiveness of Luther Dunphy's family vs. the elevated elegance of the Voorhees family. Some reviewers have said this,
Feb 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a book that made you think. And more than about the abortion controversy. It made you think about how tragedies effect families and individuals.
JCO's portrayal of the "doctor"s" family was much more sympathetic than the grinding sadness of the "murderer's" family. And the discussion of suicide, late in the book, was very apt.
(4.5) "This white girl can hit, man!" ...more
Jan 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Although I will never be able to love another Joyce Carol Oates book the way I loved Blonde, this is definitely her next masterpiece. It challenged my way of thinking, and made me reevaluate my personal beliefs and opinions about things that up until this point I had never doubted or considered a new view of. Everyone should read this book. You may not love it, like it, or even enjoy it, but I definitely think you'll grow from it. (Maybe i'm hyping this up too much, but I hype up every book I li ...more
Paula DeBoard
Me: I'm too busy to dig into anything new right now.

*starts 752-page book*


There were a few times I almost turned away from this one. It was long, and the subject matter was extremely heavy, and I felt myself being dragged down into the world of the Voorheeses/Dunphys every time I picked it back up. Of course--that's part of Oates's skill as a writer, and it's what kept me reading: a story was being told, and I suspected it was going to build to something amazing.

And it did. That end
Thing Two
This is an ARC review.

The book is ambitious, and long, but I don't think she entirely pulls off the dual empathic look at both sides of an issue that was promised. What she does well is show the devastation each family suffered after the actions of one man who, hyped up by his community, shoots two others outside an abortion clinic. But after that it's a long rambling storyline of minor events in various members of each family.
Apr 05, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dnf, 2017, 2017-abandoned
I have too many good books waiting to waste time on this fragmented pile of slop. Intriguing premise, but contains some of Oates' most awful, lifeless and flat writing. ...more
Leo Robertson
Sep 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Almost no one can make me read beyond 400 pages anymore. But these flew by.

The book begins with a thriller-like opening, with the murder of an abortion doctor. From there, the author conjures a murderous religious fanatic's mindset, covers the affected families and their backgrounds, and how the crime resonates over time and distance, over generations.

JCO's prose is lean and self-assured and filled with interesting analogies and sensations that bring the text to life. I was amazed in fact th
Sarah Tittle
Nov 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not one of my favorite of Oates' books. However, there is a lot here to make it worth the (rather long) read. Oates teases apart our country's abortion debate with empathy and compassion and raises some really important issues that are too-often dismissed by both sides. I loved having my views challenged so adroitly. And as always Oates manages to make us fall in love with characters that we might find hard to like in the hands of lesser authors. Her portrait of Dawn (D.D.) Dunphy, the d ...more
“women’s rights” are the wave of the future

Masterfully done!
Jan 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
We live in interesting times. Where the idea of a newborn child has more vibrancy than the actuality of a newborn. And where a woman's body belongs to everyone in the community except herself. Perhaps that's not quite right. Her body is exalted by everyone in the abstract while left to her own poor devices, she is often her own most severe abuser, due to lack of information, neglect and intense loneliness. Being revered in the abstract isn't fit for flesh and blood humans. This is not a book for ...more
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Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is also the recipient of the 2005 Prix Femina for The Falls. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and she has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. Pseudonyms ... Rosamond Smith and Laure ...more

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