cover image Babysitter


Joyce Carol Oates. Knopf, $30 (448p) ISBN 978-0-593-53517-2

In this polished yet soulless story from Oates (Extenuating Circumstances: Stories of Crime and Suspense), three people with varying agendas converge during the late 1970s as Detroit is racked by unsolved child murders. Bored, lonely suburban housewife Hannah Jarrett, emotionally closed off from her wealthy businessman husband and their two young children, is drawn into an abusive, humiliating affair with a man calling himself Y.K., a smarmy stranger she meets at a society fundraiser who no one can remember inviting. Y.K. also has a manipulative hold on Mikey Kushel, a victim of childhood abuse, and Mikey’s menial errands for Y.K. become increasingly strange and violent. Meanwhile, a serial killer of children called Babysitter at first stalks only Detroit’s inner city, until he widens his reach to the suburbs, shattering Hannah’s family’s sense of safety. Exquisite prose compensates only in part for characters with grating personalities who come across as mere shadows as they each careen along a collision course to disaster. This one’s only for Oates diehards. Agent: Warren Frazier, John Hawkins & Assoc. (Aug.)