cover image Snake Eyes

Snake Eyes

Rosamond Smith / Author Dutton Books $20 (272p) ISBN 978-0-525

Under the pseudonym Rosamond Smith ( Soul/Mate ; Nemesis ), which she uses for her psychological thrillers, Joyce Carol Oates burnishes her reputation with this sensational page-turner that combines sheer entertainment and canny social satire. Well-meaning lawyer Michael O'Meara, plagued by obscure guilt (its cause not divulged until the novel's end), toils to release accused murderer and self-professed sculptor Lee Roy Sears (aka Snake Eyes because of his rippling serpent tattoo) from death row, procuring for him an artist's residency in the lavish Dumont Center of Mount Orion, N.J. A dazzling variation on the Eden myth, one of several underlying the tale, is the fetid backyard pond that Michael compulsively dredges. Among the affluent Mount Orion dwellers who make a pet of runty, seemingly childlike Lee Roy is Michael's willowy wife, Gina, whose foibles include vanity, shopping, romantic lunches and adulterous hotel interludes. Gina possessively befriends Lee Roy, buying him designer clothes and showing pique when an overripe divorcee snares his attention. Shifty Lee Roy thrives on the town's patronage: he sells his ``art,'' eats well and lifts weights, growing sleek but truculent. The tightly crafted plot hurtles to an inevitable battery of brutal events that both shock and satisfy. The author treats current issues--the sentimentality of liberals toward criminals, ``obscene'' art and censorship--with biting wit. BOMC selection. (Feb.)