cover image High Crime Area

High Crime Area

Joyce Carol Oates. Grove/Atlantic/Mysterious, $23 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2265-0

Oates (Evil Eye) offers unexpected glimmers of redemption amid the grotesquerie, degradation, and exploitation that fill this collection’s eight tales. The volume picks up momentum after the predictable and slow-paced opener, “The Home at Craigmillnar,” as Oates delves into denser, more complex realms in the subsequent entries. Several stories—notably, “High” and the novella-length “The Rescuer”—deal with privileged white women who (perhaps) naively force themselves from their sheltered academic world into situations fraught with economic, racial, sexual, and social tensions. Monstrosity, apathy, and despair plague family relationships in “The Rescuer,” “Demon,” and “Toad-Baby.” Many of the characters’ most intimate connections are with strangers, or with the potential those strangers have to indelibly alter the narrators’ lives for better or worse. Oates is at her best depicting characters who seem perplexed by their own needs, desires, and obligations, and readers seeking tidy resolutions and clear endings won’t find them in these tales. Agent: Warren Frazier, John Hawkins and Assoc. (Apr.)