My Heart Laid Bare
Joyce Carol Oates
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Finally returned to print in a beautiful paperback edition, a haunting gothic tale of a nineteenth-century immigrant family of confidence artists—a story of morality, duplicity, and retribution that explores the depths of human manipulation and vulnerability
The patriarch of the Licht family, Abraham has raised a brood of talented con artists, children molded in his image, and experts in The Game, his calling and philosophy of life. Traveling from one small town to the next across the continent, from the Northeast to the frontier West, they skillfully swindle unsuspecting victims, playing on their greed, lust, pride, and small-mindedness. Despite their success, Abraham cannot banish a past that haunts him: the ghost of his ancestor Sarah Licht, a former con woman who met with a gruesome fate.
As Abraham involves his family in more and more complex and impressive schemes, he finds himself caught between the specter of Sarah and the growing terrors of his present. While his carefully crafted lies and schemes begin to fracture and disintegrate before his eyes, Abraham discovers that the bond of family is as tenuous and treacherous as the tricks he perpetrates upon unsuspecting strangers.
flowers and which shrubs on which paths—for it seems she shares his fondness for the park, which is bound up with her early girlhood, when her family spent six weeks of every autumn in London. On another occasion, the lady quotes Tocqueville on the pernicious consequences of Equality (“in democratic ages that which is most fluctuating amid the fluctuation of all around is the heart of man”), and Albert St. Goar rejoins with a spirited dismissal of the bigoted French cynic, as he calls him, who
typical mannerisms, of which Roland himself was surely unaware. “For, you see, Mr. Bagot, I can’t remember. I remember the roar of a landslide, and a sudden nightmare of rock, pebbles, dirt, sand—I remember the frenzied whinnying of horses—the sensation of falling—being thrown—amid great terror and helplessness—as if God in His wrath had reached down to destroy my companion and me, for what offense I can’t know. This horror I remember clearly, Mr. Bagot—but it has blotted out everything else.”
after a rally in Central Park in which he spoke contemptuously of certain of his brothers as “white men’s black men”; accusing such men of preaching subservience to whites out of cowardice and expediency. But Prince Elihu preaches rebellion: the world unification of all Negroes: a collective refusal, tantamount to treason, to enlist in the United States Army or even to register for the draft. Death Before Humility is Prince Elihu’s command to his followers. For some time in secret Millicent has
Sophie, and one or two others, been as potent in the flesh as in the heated confines of Abraham Licht’s mind? Two of the women, Arabella and Morna, lived yet, so far as Abraham knew; yet they seemed to him no more immediate, and distinctly less worthy, than Sophie who was dead. Ah, they had betrayed him so cruelly! . . . and Sophie as well! . . . and one or two others, harlots best forgotten. Yet the women, Abraham Licht’s “wives,” had given him splendid children; which argued, however
and there experienced numerous adventures—as Abraham Licht might one day reveal in his memoir, these were too many, and too motley, to be described in a small space. The essence of it was, Fortune did not smile upon us. Though we shook, and shook, and shook the dice, our lucky number never came up. How was it possible, their hopes for success on Broadway were thwarted repeatedly?—if Arabella was cast for a musical evening in which she excelled, it nonetheless did poorly and closed within a few