An imposing collection of 35 stories.
Of the 25 stories reprinted here from earlier volumes, the best include a searching treatment of religious experience (“In the Region of Ice”); rich homages to literary masters (“The Dead,” “The Lady with the Pet Dog”); a haunting exploration of spiritualism (“Night-Side”); a nicely detailed racetrack story (“Raven’s Wing”); and one of the author’s creepiest depictions of adolescent sexual confusion (“Heat”). The principle of selection explained in a brief Afterword doesn’t account for the omission of some of Oates’s very best— notably, one of her finest deployments of symbolism, in “First Views of the Enemy” (since reworked in several later stories) and the compact Dreiserian masterpiece “Waiting.” The new stories vary in quality largely according to the degree to which they’re overplotted. “*BD* 11 1 87,” for example, painstakingly builds a wrenching characterization of a lonely, orphaned high-school senior inexplicably discouraged from realizing his considerable potential—then throws it away as the story spins into banal near-futuristic fantasy. The title story, about an aging farmer destroyed when he’s caught in a vice squad sting, almost collapses when emphasis shifts to revenge taken on his behalf—but Oates gives it conviction through understatement and deft pacing. “The Lost Brother,” which describes a middleaged woman’s determined, doomed search for her estranged sibling, works brilliantly, as everything left unsaid eloquently ensnares the reader. Other stories deal all too predictably and heatedly with shattered families (“Spider-Boy,” “Soft-Core,” “The Cousins”) and sexual violence (“The Fish Factory,” “The Gathering Squall,” “In Hot May”). Then there’s “Fat Man My Love,” an ironic remembrance of an adipose film-industry giant by one of his “Ice Blondes,” which does to the memory of Alfred Hitchcock what Oates did to Marilyn Monroe in the wretched novel Blonde. Who’s next? Shirley Temple? Dame Edith Evans? Lassie? Enough, already.
Otherwise, a longstanding literary need somewhat successfully addressed with this collection.