I previously read a short story by Oates called Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?. I think she does better in the short story format where, y'know, she's not allowed so many WORDS.
This is a story of a girl "called" Anellia. Apparently this is a name she made up for herself, which is fitting, because that's exactly what it sounds like. We never find out her real name.
The tale runs in three parts. The first two take place when she's in college in New York. One deals with her time in a sorority that recruited her to help raise the sisters' grade average. She gets thrown out due to her inability to bathe, which shows there is some sense left in the world.
The second follows her romance with a black man studying philosophy. Her main interest in him seems to be that he is black; I found it disturbing, although I couldn't put my finger on why. It read a little bit like fancying a guy because he's rich/hot/has a big car, except with added self-congratulation because she wasn't racist like everyone else. Maybe it's a colour-blind stance, but I felt it shouldn't have been quite that important. Or maybe it was just Oates' writing, which is, let's face it, BAD.
Finally, the conclusion comes about when she visits her dying father. This was probably the least interesting part in a book that was one hundred and ten percent uninteresting. The only thing that made it worth reading was this line:
I came to believe that the unexamined life, the life that's lead without continuous self-scrutiny, and a doubting of all inherited prejudice, bias, "faith", was madness. In our civilised lives we are surrounded by madness while believing ourselves enlightened.
And 290 pages of crap is a lot for just one line.
Previously, on Book Glomp 2010:
The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories, Anton Chekhov