Lovely, Dark, Deep

Joyce Carol Oates. Ecco, $25.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-235694-9

Oates's (Carthage) newest collection characteristically mines the depths of the female psyche to find darkness there. In particular, she deals with women who hide medical procedures—including, presciently, abortion—from their loved ones ("Sex With Camel," "Distance," "‘Stephanos Is Dead'") and with women who struggle to assert themselves in relationships with their artistic, self-absorbed fathers ("Things Passed on the Way to Oblivion," "Patricide") and with lovers ("Mastiff," "A Book of Martyrs," "The Hunter," "The Disappearing"). Throughout, the lines that define these secrets and hidden desires captivatingly blur and dissolve. "The Jesters," about aging suburbanites who eavesdrop on their neighbors' seemingly picture-perfect life as it shatters, conjures both elements, and then ups the ante with a paranormal twist. A pair of longer stories—the title story, "Lovely, Dark, Deep," which is a fictional reimagining of a young poet's interview with Robert Frost in his twilight years, and "Patricide," a longer exploration of a stifling father-daughter bond—expand on these themes. As the interloping fiancée of "Patricide" says of her deceased lover, the Phillip Roth–esque Roland Marks, "He knew women really well—you could say, the masochistic inner selves of women." We might well say the same of Oates, with the same complimentary awe. (Sept.)