Oates's zillionth novel (or, more properly, long story) once again explores the familiar territories of rural upstate New York and endangered preadolescence with a concentrated intensity that earns it a place alongside her superb (and underrated) novella I Lock My Door Upon Myself (1990). Told in alternating first- and second-person narratives, the story is about the disturbingly memorable summer when Il-year-old Josie and her adventurous mother leave Josie's father to go live with Aunt Ester in "the Reverend's house" on Trinity Street in Ransomville ("a country town where everyone went to church but no one much believed in God"). The symbolic provenance is thus established early on--and it grows stronger as the lonely Josie's fascination with her adult cousin Jared, a theology student being groomed to continue his family's long tradition of providing ministers for the Presbyterian church, possesses her imagination. Succumbing to Jared's hypnotic commands, Josie is led to the threshold of full sexual experience--and something rather worse--before the summer abruptly climaxes and her education in adult feeling culminates in a transformation that supersedes Jared's yearnings. Oates tells this essentially familiar tale through vivid figurative language and sharp contrasts. The threatening presences of a huge black snake, a predatory black hawk, and--most ingeniously--multiple images of Jesus on the walls of Jared's study provide striking objective correlatives to Josie's fortuitous submergence in a fear that, she discovers, can save one's life. And there's a brilliantly manipulated parallel between the confident, mysterious sexuality flaunted by Josie's strong-willed mother Delia and Josie's own furtive initiation into the conundrums of sex. The humid, seductive ambiance of Josie's dangerous summer is evoked with carefully chosen and skillfully understated details. Oates at her best--and a happy reminder that she remains one of our foremost chroniclers of childhood's awakening and woman's fate.