A: Well, it's a storytelling mode in which the surreal emerges out of a realistic historical era, the way our dreams and fantasies emerge when we're surrounded by reality. You can be sitting at your desk and have a dream that's quite surreal, which is the definition of surrealism — the conjunction of ordinary things with extraordinary things, the disparate coming together. To me the demons and the ghosts are emerging out of the repression of that white community. They're repressing all these things, out of which these visions are manifesting.

Q: Then there's this person, Axson Mayte, with whom the heroine flees her own wedding, and who is remembered as having a different appearance by almost everyone who met him, which also seems rather spooky.

A: He's a demonic projection of a society that has been repressing all these truths. You know, I'd written about vampires in the past, the vampire being a mythical and iconic figure that I interpret as an exploitation of a person or group of persons by others. I don't think of the vampire as a romantic figure, which I suppose today is a teenage preoccupation. It's more symbolic of a class struggle through history.

Q: On some level, of course, "The Accursed" is a satire of aristocratic thinking. Since you've lived in Princeton for many years, you must have a sense of the self-regard of the old families there. There was a great insistence in that world on bloodlines and breeding and so forth. Do you still sense that in Princeton today?

A: No, just the names remain, and the houses, which are mostly renovated, and very expensive. Woodrow Wilson lived in two houses, and my friend Jeffrey Eugenides (author of "Middlesex" and other novels) now lives in one of them, an English Tudor house.

Q: That's impressive.

A: Well, you can buy these houses, which go for $3 (million) or $4 million. All you need is money.

Kevin Nance is a Chicago-based freelance writer whose work appears in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Poets & Writers Magazine and elsewhere.

"The Accursed"

By Joyce Carol Oates, Ecco, 669 pages, $27.99