From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The words gothic and macabre rather than mystery and suspense might better describe the 10 beautifully told stories in this superb collection from the prolific Oates (The Female of the Species). In the startling opening tale, Hi! Howya Doin!, an overly friendly jogger encounters someone with a less rosy outlook on life. In the horrifying Valentine, July Heat Wave, an estranged wife finds a very unpleasant surprise in the home she once shared with her academic husband. In the haunting Feral, a near-death experience transforms a much-loved only child into something wild and unknowable. The title story concerns a horrific exhibit in the home of an aging coroner in upstate New York (whose behavior is even more troubling). The book's best story, The Man Who Fought Roland LaStarza, about an aging boxer in a bout that will make or end his career, happens to be the least gruesome. Powerful narratives, a singular imagination and exquisite prose make this a collection to relish. (Aug.)
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All crime stories implicate the reader in some way--if you weren't thrilled by criminal acts, you wouldn't be reading about them, would you?--but in two of the tales in this new collection, "Hi! Howya Doin!" and "Stripping," Oates takes that concept one step further, implicating the reader by use of second-person point of view. In other stories, guilt shifts more unpredictably: in "Suicide Watch," a father ponders his own culpability for a horrific crime that he thinks--he can't be sure--his son has committed; in "Bad Habits," the children of a serial killer find similarities between themselves and their father's victims; in "Valentine, July Heat Wave," a philosopher plans revenge against his less-intelligent wife, whom he blames for their impending divorce. Oates clearly isn't interested in the usual suspects. It's almost customary, when reviewing her, to get off a crack at her prodigious output. But the care and intellect she applies to all of her projects, even what is theoretically "just" genre fare, are anything but jokes. These stories sizzle, and turning pages only fans the flames. Keir Graff
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