Another (the 21st, already) ho-hum collection demonstrating both Oates's unceasing productivity and her inexplicable willingness to gather embarrassingly shoddy work together with handfuls of stories actually worth preserving.
For far too many of these slackly written "Tales of Transgression" revisit themes explored in earlier and better work ("We Were Worried About You" is yet another reworking of Oates's classic "First Views of the Enemy") or use material that seems to have been detached from recent novels like Zombie (1995) and Man Crazy (1997). The generic characters and their victims are familiar figures in the Oates canon, presented here with only slight variations. The "Lover," for instance, stalks the man who abandoned her; in "The Stalker," a victim of sexual violence becomes a neurasthenic paranoid; the protagonist of "Murder-Two," an idealistic defense attorney, surrenders to infatuation with her matricidal teenaged client; and the narrator of "A Manhattan Romance" clings to borderline-incestuous adoration of her suave "Daddy," a corrupt attorney who had used his child as a hostage before killing himself. Oates stretches farther still in "Tusk," which portrays a 13-year-old malcontent plotting a high-school killing spree, and "*In Copland,*" the overheated story of an investigative journalist's surreal experience of police violence. Only in the deftly structured "What Then, My Life?," in which the sources of an elderly woman's seeming "hatred" of her granddaughter are subtly revealed, and in the atmospheric title story, a skillfully extended anecdote about a mother's disappearance, do we glimpse the harshly realistic, spine-tingling writer Oates can be when she's at her best. But if an unknown writer had sent these stories around (17 of them were first published in magazines), the number rejected would have been high indeed.
Oates has been publishing short fiction for 40 years. Let's have a Best or Selected Stories, by all means. But, please, no more books like Faithless.