A gender-specific collection of nine reprinted stories that will make you wish for that extra chromosome.
Little girls, mid-lifers, moms, daughters, wives, careerists all fare poorly here. Kids have a particularly hard time of it. In “The Banshee,” a six-year-old drags her baby brother onto a rooftop to get daddy’s attention, with dire results. A razor-wielding miss who can pass for 11 is rented to pedophiles by her (step)daddy in “Doll: A Romance of the Mississippi.” Ugly cellar traumas await youngsters at the hands of their mommas in “The Haunting” and “Tell Me You Forgive Me.” In a turnabout, the young mom in “Angel of Wrath” coaxes her stalker to murder. Then there are the wives: lonely and lusting on the Cape in “Hunger,” rich and bored and window-shopping in Madison Avenue boutiques with sinister back rooms in “Madison at Guignol” and posing as the ultimate Daddy’s Girl in “So Help Me God.” What about the poor working lass? Two summa cum laude graduates of Mount Saint Joseph’s Nursing School, class of ’54 and class of ’99, invade the hospital wards in “Angel of Mercy.”
Those who can weather the Oates tics (the overused parentheses; the words that repeat, repeat, repeat; all those candles and flames) will savor this clever mind (Missing Mom, 2005, etc.) stooping to middlebrow level. Others may reach for the work of Celia Fremlin or Ruth Rendell.