Many of Joyce Carol Oates’s works have featured the complexity and malformations of the American legal system, most notably her novels Do With Me What You Will (1973) and The Falls (2004). Moreover, it seems fitting that Oates has taken on the project of editing an anthology of prison fiction as her own writing has been recently engaged with the hidden reality of America’s prison system, particularly in her latest novel Carthage (2014). Here the wayward protagonist Cressida becomes an assistant to a loquacious and idealistic character dubbed the “Investigator” who is assembling material for a journalistic exposé about the prison system. In a particularly vivid scene Cressida enters a prison execution chamber while undercover and experiences a psychological crisis. No doubt Oates’s interest in representing the reality of prison life has, in part, stemmed from her time teaching at San Quentin State Prison in California. Prison Noir marks Oates’s continuing engagement and fictional exploration of such significant American institutions.

Read my full review at the online journal Bearing Witness:

AuthorEric Karl Anderson
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