Stefanie's Reviews > Black Water

Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates
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it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction, historical-fiction, read-for-school

I'm really confused by why this amazing book doesn't have higher ratings. Even people who have nothing but good things to say about it only give it three or four stars. As for me, books like this are the reason why I've been so stingy with my five star ratings lately. It's blow-your-mind good, and that's what I've been waiting for.

Some of the criticisms I've read are that JCO's fictionalized version of the Chappaquiddick incident unfairly villainizes Ted Kennedy while making his victim, Mary Jo Kopechne, out to be a helpless victim. I didn't read it that way at all. Yes, "The Senator"--as he is referred to in the book--ends up looking bad, but that's because he did a really terrible thing. Yes, we empathize with the the victim--"Kelly"--but that's because she died, and she didn't have to. If The Senator had been more concerned with Kelly's life than his own political career, she would have lived. That part isn't fictional though. It's a historical fact.

I know it's hard to believe that such a good man would do such a horrible thing, but I think that's why this book was written. Because Kennedy lived to go on and do good--even great--things, and the public forgave him. He could never be POTUS, no, but he had a very long, successful political career. Kopechne, meanwhile, lived for at least two hours trapped in a car underwater before suffocating to death.

Both of the main characters were more nuanced than most reviewers are acknowledging. The Senator actually reads like a pretty good guy up until the moment when he abandons Kelly to die. And I think Kelly reads rather flawed. Getting in the car with him was dumb--but at the same time understandable. It wasn't "daddy issues"--it was a lot of complex stuff, and part of it was her own career ambition.

I think, aside from romantic allegiance to the Kennedys, maybe people have issues with the brevity of Black Water, which I would classify as a novella. But because JCO's approach to the book relies so much on repetition, fragments, and run-ons, I think the strategy--which works really well given the way one might process thoughts in the last two hours of one's life, trapped in a car underwater--would have gotten annoying if it had gone on too much longer.

Black Water is unlike any book I've ever read before. It's brilliant and important. I recommend for everyone but especially those with an interest in American history and/or politics.

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Reading Progress

February 18, 2015 – Started Reading
February 18, 2015 – Shelved
February 19, 2015 – Shelved as: fiction
February 19, 2015 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
February 19, 2015 – Shelved as: read-for-school
February 19, 2015 – Finished Reading

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