Carthage is the story of Cressida Mayfield, who is missing and presumed murdered by her sister's fiancee, Brett Kincaid, a wounded Iraqi War veteran who is severely disabled both mentally and physically. "Carthage" opens in July 2005 with the search for Cressida Mayfield, a 19-year-old girl who has gone missing in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. After her family's frantic attempts to locate her when she did not return from visiting a neighborhood friend, the family contacts police. The search broadens when it is reported that Cressida was last seen in the company of Brett Kincaid, her sister's fiancee and a wounded Iraqi War veteran, in a mountain bar.
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Kincaid, who was known throughout Carthage as an upstanding young man prior to his deployment to Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11/2001, had returned to the town a broken and bruised man, both physically and mentally. Though it is unknown to even those closest to him, including his also upstanding and beautiful fiancee, Juliet, Brett had witnessed horrible atrocities in Iraq committed by his platoon members against Iraqi citizens, including the rape and murder of a pre-pubescent Iraqi girl. Kincaid was mortified by the actions of his fellow soldiers and attempted to report the crimes and provide justice to the Iraqi victim. Instead, his version of events was questioned and he was told by his superiors that they could not guarantee his safety in Iraq. Subsequently, Brett is wounded when an IED explodes and shatters his skull, resulting in the loss of one eye as well as incalculable brain injuries.
During the investigation of Cressida's missing person case, Brett is subsequently arrested for the crime. After seven hours of police interrogation without an attorney present (at his request), he confesses to murdering Cressida and throwing her body in the river. The body is never recovered. Brett is convicted and sentenced to 15 to 20 years for manslaughter in a maximum security prison in upstate New York. Because the body was never recovered, the charge was reduced from first degree to manslaughter and he is eligible for parole in seven years. Brett was hoping for the death penalty.
And this is where the story gets interesting. Part 2 opens in Florida, with the story of the "intern," a young woman who has little memory of her past yet has built a life for herself as the assistant to a reclusive but influential "investigator" who delves into social justice issues and exposes corruption at the highest level. This section of the book explores the intern's complex relationships with the investigator as well as the woman who "saved her" when she found the intern beaten and bruised and lying in a ditch in the Adirondack mountains nearly seven years before. It is on a visit to the death chamber at one of Florida's most notorious prisons on assignment with the investigator that the intern's "former life" rushes back to her. Voluntarily lying on the table used for lethal injections, the intern is overcome with emotion, rushes from the chamber and collapses just outside the building's walls. Through this cathartic experience, she realizes the need to return "home," hoping that her family can forgive her, hoping for their love.
Part 3 focuses on Cressida's return to Carthage and the devastating results of of her "loss" on the family and Brett Kincaid. It explores in great depth and detail the various methods in which Brett and the other family members coped (or failed to cope) with Cressida's loss. The story ends with the family restored and Cressida attempting to make restitution for the seven years Brett suffered in prison, falsely accused.
This is a powerful, evocative novel that explores mental illness; "death" in all its various forms, including emotional and spiritual; repentance and forgiveness. The prose is rich and complex and I was particularly drawn to the depth of the characters. For all its complexity and considerable length, it is a book I couldn't put down.
Best part of story, including ending:
I loved this book for its prose, its insight into human character under great stress and the way in which its characters respond to the circumstances of their lives.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene occurs near the end of the book in a chapter where Juliet is struggling with her feelings for Cressida since her return to Carthage. She at once hates her for ruining her life with Brett and yet understands that had the events of seven years before not occurred she would not be wife to her current husband and mother to her children. The most powerful line is at the end: "On the way home Cressida said, Juliet forgive me? Calmly I said, There is nothing to forgive."
Opinion about the main character:
I didn't like Cressida. In addition to being mentally ill, she is spoiled, and selfish. Yet, as the story continued to unfold, I found myself drawn to her and even sympathizing with her as she sought to return to her family and restore the many relationships she damaged.