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

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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.

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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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