cover image Assignation


Joyce Carol Oates, Oates. Ecco, $16.95 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-88001-200-3

In 44 short narratives ranging in length from a simple paragraph of five sentences to a dozen pages at most, Oates has captured precisely an essential presence and instant in the lives of her characters. These short takes offer brilliant bursts of energy that are both dazzling and disappointing for their ephemeral nature. From ``Two Doors,'' in which an old man is reminded of the moment in his youth when he accidently intruded on a half-dressed female relative, to ``Anecdote,'' in which a woman isn't quite convinced that the man who failed to acknowledge her on the street is not her lover, Oates's focus is on moments of consciousness. In ``Tick,'' a woman whose husband has left her is tranquil and self-sufficient, resisting ``the temptation to succumb to thoughts of despair, self-hatred. Easier, she thinks, to hate yourself than to respect yourself; it involves less imagination.'' But when she discovers a tick embedded in her scalp she loses her independence to such a degree that she now longs for a reconciliation, and even a baby. As always, there is an edge to Oates's prose, and even when there is no central disturbance, the calm is uneasy, as though eruption may be imminent. Logical as daydreams, with endings similarly as interrupted or unforeseen, these stories reveal a master of the form writing at her efficient, full-tilt best. (September)