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Black Water
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1001 book reviews > Black water - Joyce Carol Oates

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Kristel (kristelh) | 3949 comments Mod
Read in 2010, This story of Kelly Kelleher, a girl who takes a ride with Senator. Thre is an accident and death by water. It is a novella, thank goodness. It was like reliving a nightmare over and over. I hope I don't remember this one. The point of view is Kelly herself as she is trapped in the car in the black water, left to drown.


message 2: by Pip (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pip | 1352 comments This is my second Oates, the first was Blonde, the same genre, literary biographical fiction. Blonde was an imaginative retelling of the Marilyn Munro story. Black Water is a fictionalised version of the Chappaquiddick tragedy. Teddy Kennedy is never named as such, just referred to as the Senator. The girl's name is different, as is the place and time. The reader knows what the outcome will be and the final moments of the girl are repeated and repeated. " As the black water filled her lungs, and she died". Oates used much repetition to devastating effect. The horribly fascinating part of the story is that Kennedy didn't call the police, or attempt to flag down other cars to help and that the victim, Mary Jo Kopechne was found to have survived some hours. Repetition of "Here, I'm here" reinforces the terror and despair of the victim. The story is told from her perspective. I thought it might have been more compelling to imagine the panic of the Senator and the thinking that led to his fatal reaction. Nevertheless this is a lyrical, fascinating retelling of one of the Kennedy tragedies.


Valerie Brown | 557 comments Read April 2021

I appreciate the writing and the style Oates used; however, the novella left me unmoved.

Oates doesn’t give us insight into ‘the Senator’s’ motivations, she mildly suggested that he is a sexual predator (as we would now call it) who enjoys the fruits of his fame and power. Oates does a lot of speculating regarding ‘Kelly’s’ motivation, including conflicted feelings about sexual relations, a past relationship that may have been abusive, and issues regarding self-worth. I felt she laid this on a bit thick, but on the other hand by doing this we don’t have any questions that ‘Kelly’ would have naively fallen for ‘the Senator’.

I think knowing that this novella is ‘inspired by’ the ‘Chappaquiddick incident’ was a hindrance to my enjoyment. Oates’ choice to move the incident to the (late)1980s didn’t make sense to me, and didn’t add anything to the story. The whole incident is lurid enough without adding HIV, and inner-city issues into the mix. I can only suppose she did that for reasons of liability. 3*


message 4: by Gail (last edited Apr 04, 2021 03:15PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gail (gailifer) | 1267 comments Read April 2021
This novella is based on a fictionalized telling of the Chappaquiddick incident with Ted Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne and centers around the emotions and thinking of the drowning woman rather than those of The Senator.
I really thought that the writing style that consisted of repetitions, flashbacks, calming and strong thoughts, denials and mounting panic worked as I came to know much about our character Kelly Kelleher. I thought that Carol Oates kept a very interesting balance between the reader learning about why the young women would find herself in this strange position but also leave us incredulous that she would find herself in this position.
I had to look up the name of the woman in the Chappaquiddick tragedy. In this way I was thankful to Carol Oates for keeping the story alive. It was an incident that could easily be repeated today even if the woman was less naive and less idealistic reflecting our own times.
I agree with Valerie in regards Oates moving the date but nevertheless I did find it to be a moving short story told well.
I gave it 3 stars.


Karen | 215 comments 3 stars.

Naive, idealistic political journalist with father issues feels "chosen" by a senator who she wrote her University thesis on, driving to the ferry to get to his motel room, he crashes the car and she is killed. The novella is the drowning woman recounting her story. Based on the Chappaquiddick incident.

I liked the constant repetition of phrases and themes in this story; I felt like it reflected the nature of water, ebbing to and fro and it highlighted the horrific nature of what was going on.

However, Oates has made Kelly out to be almost a perfect victim here. She is trying to make her as sympathetic as possible to compare with the nameless senator. She doesn't sleep around, is not using the senator for political reasons, instead she is heavily flattered that despite her own sense of inadequacy (and acne) someone like HIM could be interested in HER. I am not sure she would have survived in her job long with this attitude.

I don't know much about the real life events this was based on, but I never at any point in this book thought that he was actually going to help her (particularly after he used her body as leverage to get out of the car) and found Kelly's hallucinations that he was doing so quite moving.

Oates is so busy hammering home points about the corrupting nature of political power and the men that wield it that she hinders the potential of this novella to focus on both characters in a realistic way. (I agree with Valerie about the moving of the dates - this would have been more realistic set in the 60s of its source). I like the fact that Oates focuses on the victim but because of the way she is portrayed that is pretty much all she is.

I am glad this was removed from the list as I enjoyed it, the writing was good, but I don't think it is strong enough all round to deserve to keep its place.


Leni Iversen (leniverse) | 433 comments Short, gripping book, with an unusual composition, based on a real event (that I hadn't heard of but I guess it is well known to Americans).

The book starts with a chapter that is just one paragraph long, describing a car going off the road and ending up in a river. The subsequent chapters are all short, often only a couple of pages. For each chapter we move slightly back in time, or slightly forward; we get a new or wider angle, slowly more insight into the thoughts and actions of the passenger of the car.

I was literally at the edge of my seat reading this, and at times I almost forgot to breathe. But I also felt that the author set out to engage my emotions to an excessive degree. A bit sensationalist, if you like. And due to the composition of the book, effective though it is, I also didn't get to know the characters well enough. The 26 year old main character seemed hopelessly young and naive. And not just because I am getting old. She really seemed more like 20 than 26. She definitely didn't seem like she was 26 in the 1980s. But it was a book that made feel, both an adrenaline rush and anger and sadness on behalf of the main character.


Diane | 2020 comments Rating: 3 stars

This is a thinly-veiled fictionalized account of the Chappaquiddick incident back in the late 60's. I read it for the first time several years ago and was underwhelmed. I feel I appreciated it better this time around. I suppose Oates chose to make the changes to the story to make it more of a work of fiction than an account of a real life tragedy.


Diane Zwang | 1214 comments Mod
“As the black water filled her lungs and she died.”

A fictionalized account of Chappaquiddick. In this story he is referred to as the Senator. I also listened to the podcast Cover-Up by People Magazine which recounts the history of the incident. It was a good podcast. I also watched the movie which I thought was well done.


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