In her lengthy literary career, now-octogenarian author Joyce Carol Oates has wandered into pop genres, most notably horror. Her most recent novel, started in 2011 but not published until late 2018, begins as something akin to a YA dystopia before quickly time-traveling into something else.
The high-school valedictorian in a near-future dystopia, a sort of 1984 meets “Harrison Bergeron” by way of a broad range of current socio-political trends, runs afoul of her government. They send her for re-education, back in time to an aggressively mediocre Midwestern college in the 1950s.
Then things turn strange.
Back to the Future this is not.
The book creates a strong sense of foreboding and paranoia even during long passages where our twice-named protagonist does little beyond engaging in her daily affairs. At her best, Oates remains a surprising and often subtly dark creator.
The revelations about Wainscotia's…