cover image American Appetites

American Appetites

Joyce Carol Oates. Dutton Books, $18.95 (340pp) ISBN 978-0-525-24725-8

In her 19th novel, the prolific author of You Must Remember This dishes up a heady concoction of lust, murder and courtroom drama. Ian and Glynnis McCullough, an apparently happy couple for 26 years, orbit painlessly in the academic universe of the prestigious Institute for Independent Research in the Social Sciences in upstate New York. Glynnis is a noted food writer working on a cookbook titled American Appetites , while Ian is a demographic expert whose destiny, ``the seemingly benign verso of fate,'' will by the tale's end seem astonishingly altered from its original course. When a drunken quarrel over suspected infidelity degenerates into a brawl, Glynnis falls through a plate glass window and is fatally injured. Ian is charged wtih murder; during his ensuing trial ambiguities abound as guilt and responsibility must be treated as separate issues. In her usual nuanced, stylized voice, Oates offers incriminating evidence against American appetites for food, wine, drink, power and sex, as she knowingly observes the smugly comfortable lives of the smart and tenured. A zippy story about successful lives dramatically altered by one sudden and inexplicable lapse of judgment, this is definitely Oates in her bestseller metier. (Jan.)