Short, sharp shots (many of them aimed at sensuality and love) from the master of moody foreboding. Most of the 44 stories collected here are very short--no more than two or three pages--and treat an intimation of greed, lust or death arising from a minor (or, since Oates sometimes scorns plot, minimized) event. In "The Boy," a teacher intends to seduce a student who has been mooning over her, but instead avenges herself lustily for an unsatisfying life. In "Photographer's Model," an uncle's predilection for photographing his niece as a child has the result of making her perverse--in fact, a whore. When 15-year-old Junie's Momma in "Mule" takes a new lover who--like the lovers before him--soon begins to bang at windows and slap Momma around (evidently out of crazed desire for her "creepy" breasts), this time Junie herself dons high heels and leaves her mother to threatened suicide; like Momma's lover in a story he tells, she'll dive into the stream of life and take a good look at the corpse of a mule rotting there. In fact, fever, decay, nausea, protuberance, and intimations of mortality lead the way to dusty irony in many of these sketches, only some of which strike any target. As in the title story, "The Assignation" ("She rubs her body with hand lotion, breasts, buttocks and thighs, belly, legs. She's hypnotized by the feel of so much fleshy flesh"), the target is usually a solipsistic and a shadowy self, dreaming of an outside world. Vintage Oates--always interesting, though not always pleasant.