You Must Remember This by Joyce Carol Oates - review by Sophia Watson

Sophia Watson

Enid Sounds A Bit Odd

You Must Remember This


Macmillan 463pp £10.95 order from our bookshop

In an age when child abuse is one of the most talked about subjects (after AIDS) and Esther Rantzen is able to rebuild a fading career out of her concern for the problem, it is not surprising to find that novelists are turning enquiring eyes and pens in the same direction. You Must Remember This, which is set in upstate New York in the 1950s, deals, basically, with incest between an uncle and his young niece. Which is not to say that the niece, Enid Maria Stevick, is not a willing participant in the affair which lasts for years and ends only with a messy abortion.

Enid Maria is the youngest daughter of Lyle (a second-hand furniture dealer) and Hannah Stevick. They have four children: Geraldine, who soon settles down into marriage and a row of babies; Warren, the closest to Enid, who fought and was nearly killed in Korea; Lizzie, the pretty, tarty blonde who hopes to become a singer, and Enid. The family is a close one, although they do not seem to talk to each other much or really to understand what is happening in any one of their siblings’ heads. And of course it has its normal share of arguments and irritations.

Lyle has a resented half-brother, Felix, the product of old man Stevick’s declining years and infatuation with a younger woman. Felix, to make matters worse, is a bit of a local hero as a boxer and money maker.

The novel opens with a prologue – the attempted suicide of Enid, aged

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