HAUNTED by Joyce Carol Oates


Tales of the Grotesque
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Surging intensity floods nearly every page of Oates's 18th hardcover collection (Where Is Here?, 1992, etc. etc.), these devoted to explorations of the grotesque. It's not as if Oates needs the fantastic to release her imagination: even in her calmer or more domestic outings she baits steel springs for snapping the reader's neckbones. Of the 16 tales here, only one is new ("Blind"), the others--nearly all quite recent--having appeared in well-heeled surroundings (Glamour, Omni, Playboy, Antioch Review, etc.). A collection such as this succeeds if it has even one masterpiece, and here there's at least one, perhaps two or three, while the rest run over with imaginative fury. Top honors go to "The Premonition," in which the deepest horror remains unnamed but is hinted at in the brilliance of a bathtub just scrubbed of blood and gleaming from kitchen cleanser. Oates's variation on Henry James's "Turn of the Screw" is "Accursed Inhabitants of the House of Bly," in which James's characters reappear incorporeally but are drenched with lust for the unachievable orgasm. In the title story, Oates brings an abandoned farm house to life as if she'd been fed all her life on hot tarpaper roofing and worn kitchen linoleum. "The White Cat" is a variation of Poe's "The Black Cat," and the longish "The Model" of Robert Nathan's Portrait of Jennie, though that sentimental fantasy here turns into a murder/suicide. Least happy story is "The Bingo Master," in which a spinster fails to get herself deflowered. Of the others, especially "Thanksgiving," a grotesquerie on consumer America's Thanksgiving dinner, all rise to a level few living masters of the genre can equal as Oates's forefingers test the pulse on your throat or wander into your ears. Like swallowing live mice.

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 1994
ISBN: 0-525-93655-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1993


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