(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Joyce Carol Oates’s book A Bloodsmoor Romance is not a kind of fiction that is easily named, although it is not hard to recognize. The work combines both realism and fantasy in a display of authorial skill: Oates uses several techniques to achieve this effect. First, she sets her romance in a past that closely resembles the historical past; in that setting one finds both fictional characters and characters who bear the names of figures from history. In addition, the characters of the work are interested in many of the things that interested the real nineteenth century: spiritualism, the theater, the westward movement, experimental science, abnormal psychology, female sexuality, and the nature of marriage.

It is Oates’s second technique that sets the work apart from historical romances per se: She freely manipulates the order of historical events and even adds events that could not possibly occur. John Quincey Zinn demonstrates both of these intrusions of fantasy: He invents the ballpoint pen and solar heating but dismisses them as useless. He invents an operating time machine, but he destroys it after he uses it to misplace one of his pupils. Similarly, Zinn’s daughter Constance combines fantasy with history. Reared for marriage, Constance spends her early life accumulating household linens, but when the wedding night comes, she panics, and placing in her groom’s bed the dress form used to fit her trousseau, she runs away. Disguising...

(The entire section is 462 words.)