This latest gothic potboiler from the thinly veiled Joyce Carol Oates pits a wide-eyed suburban lawyer and his oh-so-perfect family against the convicted murderer who comes to live in their hometown when he's served the eight years of his ``life sentence.'' Though he's never met tattooed Vietnam vet Lee Roy Sears, Michael O'Meara was instrumental five years earlier in getting his original death sentence commuted to life, and he's kept up a correspondence (much to his beautiful, decorously promiscuous wife Gina's dismay) that encourages Sears to set up shop as a supposedly gifted sculptor in Mount Orion, New Jersey. To Michael's surprise, Gina warms to Sears immediately, buying him new clothes and feeding him (in violation of his parole) ``dry white wine, very low in calories''--so Michael's able to ignore telltale signs of trouble (was that Gina he glimpsed getting fondled roughly by Sears? And was that his TV newshound sister Janet arriving at Sears's place late one night?) until trouble erupts in paradise when the backers of the gallery employing Sears banish him and his obscenely deformed clay figures. Then, a string of fireworks: those inconvenient backers both die (a suspicious fire, an apparent burglary); Sears turns on the O'Mearas and begins threatening them by phone; Gina is attacked with a razor that leaves her hideously scarred; and Michael goes after Sears, determined to kill or be killed. A long epilogue furnishes a final plot twist that Smith has thumpingly portended for any readers who may have missed Lives of the Twins (1987). Slick, professional, and utterly predictable--it reads like a sly and expert parody of the whole psycho-menace genre.