Consummately well-written, stylistically dashing, but lacking a commitment to engage with the trickier dilemmas of race,...

NIGHT-GAUNTS AND OTHER TALES OF SUSPENSE

The latest in Oates’ (Beautiful Days, 2018, etc.) vast bibliography further explores the tense dynamic between lust and revulsion that has been the terrain of much of the author's recent work.

The characters who wince through this intimate, unrelenting collection are people who live on the periphery of larger lives. We meet a frustrated faculty wife whose identity has been eclipsed by both her husband and his lovely female students (“The Long-Legged Girl”); a teenage boy whose lusts are baffled by the double-speak of an adult world that castigates him even as it draws him in (“Sign of the Beast”); a mistress waiting in doubled yearning and disgust for her brutish lover’s arrival (“The Woman in the Window”). A longtime master of the unreliable narrator, Oates lures the reader into compacts with characters whose sympathies turn out to be warped or downright murderous. Is the pitiable L____ in “Walking Wounded” excising snippets of sadist eroticism from a scholar’s posthumous work, or is he creating them in his own active life? Is the grown son in the title story the victim of his father’s paranoid madness or the inheritor of his infectious damnation? In the most challenging story of the collection, “The Experimental Subject,” Oates details the scientific process by which N____, a senior lab technician at a prestigious university, woos the unwitting woman who will gestate the first human/chimpanzee hybrid fetus. N____, who is described as having “the advantage of invisibility that is the particular prerogative of his species: deceptively bland Asian face, wire-rimmed eyeglasses, short-cropped very black glossy hair,” chooses the dim, hopelessly naïve Mary Frances for her isolation, her vulnerability, her “stolid mammalian figure,” and her coincidental likeness to the chimpanzee sperm donor who fathers her child. It is a fever dream of a story—forthrightly nightmarish—which gleefully transgresses the boundaries of identity politics in favor of the earthiest of human truths, and yet there is very little work done to examine the moral implications of the situation from the other side of those boundaries. As with many of the stories in the collection, “The Experimental Subject” ends in a flurry of unlikely action, signifying not so much character or plot resolution as the author’s weariness of the situation in which her characters have been embroiled.

Consummately well-written, stylistically dashing, but lacking a commitment to engage with the trickier dilemmas of race, class, and gender Oates uses to motivate her plots.

Pub Date: June 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2810-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Mysterious Press

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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