A Book of American Martyrs

A Book of American Martyrs

Book - 2017
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In this striking, enormously affecting novel, Joyce Carol Oates tells the story of two very different and yet intimately linked families. Luther Dunphy is an ardent Evangelical who envisions himself as acting out God's will when he assassinates an abortion provider while Augustus Voorhees, the idealistic doctor who is killed, leaves behind a wife and children scarred and embittered by grief. This is a stunning, timely depiction of an issue hotly debated on a national stage but which makes itself felt most lastingly in communities torn apart by violence and hatred.
Publisher: New York, NY : Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, ©2017.
ISBN: 9780062643049
Characteristics: 736 pages ;,24cm.


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Jun 19, 2017

Luther Dunphy is a zealous evangelical Christian, convinced that God has chosen him to assassinate an abortion provider, Gus Voorhees, in the driveway of the clinic where he is employed. Both men pay with their lives, in different ways.

This is a very long book at over 700 pages, but I didn’t find myself wishing that it were shorter, and I even felt sorry when it came to an end. The Dunphy characters – Luther and his daughter Dawn- are more fully drawn than the Voorhees family, who always seemed rather insipid. I don’t know enough about small-town Evangelical working-class Americans to know whether Oates is being clear-eyed or loading on the stereotypes- I suspect a bit of both. There is a lot of detail about boxing which probably could have been trimmed, although given that Oates wrote a series on essays On Boxing, it’s probably no surprise that so much attention is paid to the sport.

Oates herself does not come down on one side or the other of the abortion question. She gives each of the ‘martyrs’ a worldview that makes sense of their actions, however they might appear from the outside.

See my complete review at

Mar 14, 2017

Joyce carol Oates at her best.
A Book of American Martyrs has Oate's usual underpinnings of darkness...
But it's ending ( spoiler alert) signals hope:
Grounded in good research , the voices in this book are dead on.
Two men, two widows, two daughters ..the trajectory of their lives seems both intentionally and unintentionally cruel.
The protagonists life choices yield bitter fruit.
But the bleakness of adult grief has an unexpected outcome as their neglected children face rejection head-on. One behind the mask of a lense -the other in a punishing blood sport.
This is an easy but thoughtful read; but at over 700 pages this is not social media easy.

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