cover image Haunted: 2tales of the Grotesque

Haunted: 2tales of the Grotesque

Joyce Carol Oates. Dutton Books, $21.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-525-93655-8

Fiction machine Oates ( Foxfire ) industriously cranks out her 18th short-story collection, a wide-ranging offering of 16 grisly tales. She knows which literary buttons to push, and while there's certainly suspense in these selections, it's accompanied by the recognition of a tried-and-true formula at work. ``The grotesque always possesses a blunt physicality that no amount of epistemological exegesis can exorcise,'' writes Oates in an afterword, and this broad definition characterizes the multifaceted and invariably disturbing selections here. These include the previously unpublished ``Blind,'' a first-person account of an old woman who awakens during a thunderstorm to find herself blind and her husband dead; the similarly horrifying ``Poor Bibi,'' about a couple that mistreats a dog; and ``Accursed Inhabitants of the Bly,'' a reworking of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw . All the pieces here have a redeeming literary bent, although some are transparent in their motives. Undoubtedly a master of this form, Oates plies her craft like a skilled seducer, setting the mood and moving in for the conquest night after night after night. (Feb.)