cover image The Collector of Hearts: New Tales of the Grotesque

The Collector of Hearts: New Tales of the Grotesque

Joyce Carol Oates. Dutton Books, $24.95 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-525-94445-4

Although these 27 macabre stories will trigger familiar fears (of death, of the human potential for violence), they provide many surprising turns as they tour familial traumas and human isolation. In general, Oates's characters are hapless victims of fate. In ""Death Mother,"" a woman recently released from a psychiatric ward attempts to reclaim her daughter, a college student who has never been able to escape her traumatic memories. In ""The Hand-puppet,"" a ragged toy alters a child's voice and behavior hideously, to the terror of her unsuspecting mother. The most disturbing stories have a frightening sheen of plausibility; the occasional monsters and phantoms are far less convincing than the human beasts. Oates can inhabit many different voices and psyches, from the tormented Elvis worshipper of ""Elvis Is Dead: Why Are You Alive?' to the homicidal teen of ""The Sons of Angus McElster"" or the omniscient invalid of ""Intensive."" These individuals' cosmic predicaments dictate the shape of each tale, related in Oates's characteristically breathless style. While some of the stories lack clear resolutions, Oates generally succeeds in conveying a truly ominous atmosphere and in chilling the reader's blood. Oates proves yet again that she is an equally intrepid navigator of reality as well as its negative image. (Nov.)