cover image Will You Always Love Me?: 9and Other Stories

Will You Always Love Me?: 9and Other Stories

Joyce Carol Oates. Dutton Books, $23.95 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-525-93972-6

The 22 intensely imagined, haunting stories in Oates's (American Appetites ) 19th anthology of reprinted short fiction mine her familiar territory--gothic, supernatural atmospheres, doppelgangers, icily estranged couples locked in mortal psychological combat. Oates's genius is to open with the seemingly mundane, then gradually escalate to a pitch of horrific revelation. Outstanding is ``American Abroad,'' in which an art historian is honored in a foreign city by a host whom terrorists have targeted, while she herself is bizarrely, psychologically targeted by the host's daughter. Some stories successfully cover entire lives: in ``The Passion of Rydcie Mather,'' schoolbus driver Rydcie (for Eurydice, who visited Hades) ragingly defies the God who ``forced'' her into heroic action to save a drowning girl; her revenge is appropriately apocalyptic. ``The Mark of Satan'' features an innocently voluptuous door-to-door evangelist and her small daughter preaching like toy dolls to a gritty ex-con who drugs them and plots their rape before accidentally causing his own bloody mutilation. Bodily disintegration is a menace to Oates characters, who variously endure tumors, palsies, strokes, a brain fissure, child abuse. Her baroque imagination, her ability to convey the depths of violence and evil lying just below a thin veneer of civilization, gives her stories a chilling dimension. (Feb.)