Individually, the 18 dark and ominous stories collected here are impressive: in each one, the smooth surface of an ordinary life is disrupted by some somber shape (like a raven's wing) that at first appears to arrive from elsewhere but soon is seen to have been buried in the life all along. But collectively, these stories are disturbing: studies in passivity and self-ignorance that amount to pathology. In the title story, Billy's pregnant wife wards off Billy's contempt and brutality by clutching a few strands of hair from a horse (named Raven's Wing) who has come to represent a chink of transcendence for Billy. In "Harrow Street at Lindon," newly married graduate students begin to imitate the cruelly manic sexual life they hear being played out by their neighbors, through thin walls; the force impelling them is faceless, anonymous, potentially deadly and is suddenly gone when the neighbors are forced to move. In the most frightening of these stories, "Testimony," the teen-aged narrator, though "quick to learn, fast as an eel," has never learned a reason why she should not abet a murder: when her "boyfriend,"who calls himself Ruby Red, picks up a stray young girl on the Atlantic City boardwalk and beats, burns, rapes and tortures her until she dies, our girl deans up the vomit, supplies him with ropes and matches, and is satisfied with her reverse identification with the girl: "I'm the only one that he respected." All of this might be interesting if it didn't come to seem obsessive and nauseating: if there were one character or social value delineated in this group of stories that could stand against or even recognize the "raven's wing" of nihilistic sexuality and death. There isn't. For Oates fans with strong stomachs.