“Carthage” by Joyce Carol Oates; Ecco (482 pages, $26.99)
When a book begins by telling readers that a young woman, 19, has vanished into the deep woods, the expected outcome is rarely happy.
But in Joyce Carol Oates’ newest book, “Carthage,” perhaps the outcome is not quite so bleak. For the first half of the book, readers make their own assumptions about what has happened to Cressida Mayfield, the younger of Zeno Mayfield’s two daughters, and whether she indeed met a gruesome fate at the hands of her sister’s former fiance.
Oates’ book delves into a far more layered portrayal than merely a young woman’s fate — the relationship between Cressida and her family and why the engagement of her sister, Juliet, and a soldier, Brett, fell apart. Even when he comes home injured, including disfiguring facial scars, Juliet stands by him.
Although Juliet mourns the loss, it’s not something she discusses with Cressida. In the Mayfield family, Juliet is the pretty one and Cressida is the smart (and somewhat strange) one.
But when Cressida disappears — and the family quickly learns she last was seen at a somewhat seedy bar with Brett — allegiances are formed among the family and the entire town.
Readers in search of a happy ending won’t find it here, but they will find a well-told tale of family, grief and faith.