Pseudonymous Smith, now officially unmasked as Joyce Carol Oates, dips once more into the troubled pool of star-crossed twins in the most overwrought of her seven gothic pastiches (Double Delight, 1997, etc.). Men of a certain sort keep stopping to eye Starr Bright, and why not? She’s carefully made up, alluringly dressed, with a look that suggests that she may be a woman of a certain sort herself. A few of those men—traveling salesman Billy Ray Cobb, for example, or vacationing city official Ernie Fenke—even pick her up and take her to the out-of-the-way motels where she leaves them dead as stuck pigs, salting the scenes with false clues before picking her victims clean and vanishing into the night. Yet Starr Bright’s motive isn’t robbery but rage, as Oates hints from page one. When Starr Bright, nÇe Rose of Sharon Donner, goes to earth with her sister Lily Merrick in upstate New York, and Oates reveals that her murderous hatred of men stems from her ruinous high-school romance with vapid athlete Mack Dwyer (who’s remained conveniently close to home), the revelation doesn’t have any dramatic force, because the note of hysteria has been sustained almost without a break from the very beginning. By sketching in Rose and Lily’s background as fraternal twin daughters of a strict minister, showing the amateur theatricals they shared as children, and playing Sharon’s doomed sexual relationships off against her sister’s normal small-town success (kindly ex-Marine husband, budding teenaged daughter), Oates traces Sharon’s hysteria to layers of sexual, religious, and social oppression. But it’s all so familiar that the sociological diagnosis seems pat, the prose (“You have to do what I say! You have to! You’re my slave!”) thin and monotonously breathless, the set-pieces unnuanced and shrill, and the shuddery climax a pale echo of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? A mediocre vintage for the gifted and prolific Oates, or perhaps a sign that it’s time to move on to triplets or quads.