A 'plot' is not fiction, as you know, but very real; it is the record of someone's brain, a trail like a snail's trail, sticky and shameful. . . ." And in these often abstract short stories, shame and guilt and the many deaths of personality sever those all-important connections between men and women as they pursue, flee from, and pursue again themselves and each other. The ideal of marriage, a metaphor of union, is the "sacred adventure" never achieved; and infidelity becomes an acknowledgment of the inevitability of doomed isolation and aridity. Love-making on the grass is blown about with Dixie cups and "small plastic spoons." And the woman is an "echo only of his shouts and cries," or those of other men. In "The Sacred Marriage," a dead writer's young wife confers his "divinity" on succeeding lovers; in another story, a fiancee of a dying man leaves the hospital to sleep with his disciple, in "Did You Ever Slip on Red Blood?" the killer of a hijacker searches for the erotic moment of his kill through becoming the lover of the girl who had absorbed the moment of death into her consciousness -- "What was it like. . . . When it happened." But the attempt to remain intact is unreal, as in the chilling "The Children" in which a suburban housewife's bastion is ringed with incursions by dirt, strangers, and even the terrifying self-containment of her own children. In Miss Oates' feverish landscapes, the streets are crowded with phantoms seeking out victims, avengers, and those perfect unions which never come about. "You do not exist until you begin to run." Miss Oates in these stories approaches a mystic sin-dense vision in which the marital or adulterous bed is "crammed with people. . . all becoming each other. Becoming protoplasm," beneath the Celestial City. Commanding even if a few stories are only notebook exercises; all press forward into new ground.