A nondescript and intermittently tedious collection of 22 stories: the last two or three years' worth from the protean Oates, who seems here to be reworking with minimal variations materials she has used far too many times before. Preoccupying themes include, as always, the psychic undercurrents and emotional consequences of marital and domestic coexistence and conflict; the tensions between prosperous, complacent people and the underprivileged and envious outsiders who threaten their security: in a more general way, what one of her narrators calls "Perennial questions of philosophy. The mystery of good, evil. God, Devil." Oates's characters are placed in melodramatic or grotesque circumstances that cause them to reconsider who and what they are: Examples include "Life After High School," in which a "golden girl" for whom a classmate committed suicide later learns the truth about his infatuation with her; "The Goose-Girl," a strange story about a mother's initially reluctant involvement in her grown son's sexual confusions; and "The Missing Person," a smartly conceived tale--about a man's baffled empathy with the deeply troubled woman he loves--that's nevertheless clumsily overwritten. Sexual disturbance and threat predominate ("The Lost Child," "The Girl Who Was to Die"), as does domestic violence ("Christmas Night 1962"), and--in a reversion to Oates's early work--religious obsession ("Mark of Satan" is the weakest of several such subpar performances). Two stories alone seem worth preserving: "The Brothers," whose title "characters" are fantasized objective correlatives pushing a repressed music teacher toward acknowledgement of his true "erotic nature"; and "The Passion of Rydcie Mather," a skillfully developed tale of a middle-aged schoolbus driver's quarrel with God and decision to take control of her own fate. There's little else of interest here. Oates's reputation--to say nothing of her readers--would be better served by a carefully chosen Selected Stories showcasing her best work of the past 30-plus years, which isn't much more than a faint memory flickering throughout this deeply disappointing volume.