Dark events in Carthage, a town in upstate New York—a war hero returning from Iraq, a broken engagement, a mysterious murder—but not everything is as it seems.
Carthage seems to embody the values of small-town America, for its citizens are independent and patriotic, but in early July 2005, things start to go dreadfully wrong. Juliet Mayfield, older daughter of former Carthage mayor Zeno Mayfield, is planning her wedding but finds her fiance, Brett Kincaid, broken and strangely different when he returns from duty in Iraq. Cpl. Kincaid is on a passel of meds, walks with a limp and has obviously experienced a severe trauma while on active duty. Meanwhile, Juliet’s cynical and smart-mouthed younger sister, Cressida (the “smart one” as opposed to Juliet, the “beautiful one”), disappears one Saturday night after uncharacteristically visiting a local bar. The next day, Kincaid appears, hung over and largely inarticulate, and blood is found on the seat of his Jeep. Although his mother defiantly defends him as a war hero, Kincaid eventually confesses to having murdered Cressida. The scene then shifts to Florida, seven years later, when an eccentric psychologist is interviewing Sabbath Mae McSwain for an intern position. She’s defensive about a name that seems obviously made up, though she carries a birth certificate around with her, and becomes visibly nervous when the psychologist starts probing about her past. The psychologist has been writing a series of exposés entitled SHAME! and is currently working to expose conditions on death row. The novel then shifts once again, this time back to the past, to reveal how Cressida transformed into Sabbath, what horrors Kincaid experienced in Iraq and how Cressida got entangled with Kincaid on his return home.
Knotted, tense, digressive and brilliant.