No one can fail to be impressed by Joyce Carol Oates' prolificacy. In ten years, she has produced more than a dozen books of fiction and poetry, plus several critical works. Prolific, but then she's prolix too -- unpolished and imprecise. That vagueness and lack of definition in her style transfers a sense of turmoil and an atmosphere of anxiety to the reader unable to locate the key to her knots -- and all Oates' characters are in those situational tangles where either and or are equally murderous. You know her characters: there are just two kinds -- the upper-middle alienated professionals and the lower-middle chronically unemployed. In either case their lives are empty, fragmented, estranged -- "taking place in a kind of puddle that was always getting smaller" -- like the family that takes in cousin "Ruth," who gets pregnant by her lonely uncle and elopes, only he dies in an auto accident, and poor Ruth is bereft again. Oates' favorite climaxes are those crack-ups and the other kind; and even the shrinkers themselves -- the faceless questioner of "& Answers" who wants to know why the heroine killed her daughter by driving off a cliff, the Laingian lover whose freethinking conflicts with the woman of "I Must Have You," the self-motivated crew at the "Psychiatric Services" -- are hopelessly entrapped in suburban garden-variety angst. Loving "perfectly" is all they desire and what they lack; all losers down the line, there's a recurring motif of molestation and sexual abuse. Oates strains so hard to expose the nerve vitiating the American dream -- that need for status, mobility, progress and that something else driving her men and women to violence, brutality, suicide, over and over again without resolution. All so mysterious, yet unaffecting as soap opera, pre-fab with true-to-realism names, sets and props, slightly melodramatic -- but the only tragedy here is the author's decreasing talent.