Ten reprints (2001–2006) that run the gamut from almost-realism to out-of-this-world.
The most naturalistic entry is the longest, “The Man Who Fought Roland LaStarza,” whose heroine’s recollection of her prizefighter father’s betrayal echoes Hemingway’s “Fifty Grand.” A rejected husband contemplates the ugly surprise he’s preparing for his estranged wife in “Valentine, July Heat Wave.” Moving further away from realism, “Bad Habits” presents the ordeal of a serial killer’s family; “The Hunter” follows a man released from prison but not from his demons; “Feral” shows that (but not how) a near-drowning turns a model child into a clinical case; and “The Twins: A Mystery” uses a metafictional frame to present a father who orchestrates (or does he?) a murderous sibling rivalry between his sons—a rivalry that plays out in generational terms, with a maybe-dead grandson serving as the battlefield between father and son, in “Suicide Watch.” “Hi! Howya Doin!” and “Stripping” are brief monologues moving from routine annoyance to murderous rage. And the heroine’s tour in the title story of a ghoulish museum run by her mother’s new husband shows how deft Oates is at sliding into overheated horrors before transposing her conventional settings into psychological anatomies with a precision worthy of Poe.
Surreal interior landscapes, shamelessly incantatory prose and an enduring ambivalence toward the neo-gothic conventions from which Oates (The Gravedigger’s Daughter, 2007, etc.) draws her power to shock and dismay.