This is probably one of the more effective Joyce Carol Oates books in the last few years in part because it’s very very low on conceit and premise and high on tone, style, and execution. We begin right in the middle of things as a young wife, newly married as in the previous day, steps out of a bus, off of the curb, and in front of the same bus. It’s unclear what was going through her mind, whether or not she was attempting to harm herself or simply was distracted. We slowly begin to receive information about her life from a harried kind of narration (all told in the third person, which allows the narrator to switch characters’ internalities more quickly) that slowly shows us more about her marriage, her husband ( who is a medical student from a very religious family) and eventually more about the woman’s own past (from some kind of abusive childhood that is more and more clear as the novel progresses).
It’s a short novel, and like I said, it’s focused more on pacing, tone, and execution than any kind of real characterization. It’s listed as a novel of suspense, as Oates will often do for her books (give them a kind of genre subtitle to frame our reading of them — “A Love Story” “A Fable” “Tales of Darkness” etc). So we’re asked to consider it within a kind of genre framing. But the novel clearly does not fit carefully in any set of terms. It’s not great or anything, but it’s probably better than I anticipated.