cover image Where Is Here

Where Is Here

Joyce Carol Oates. Ecco, $18.95 (193pp) ISBN 978-0-88001-283-6

The 35 stories in this exciting collection dramatize electrifying encounters and characters seized by heightened emotions, revealing them with inventiveness and boundless stylistic variety. Many of the stories are little more than brief vignettes, yet each illuminates its protagonist's state of mind like a flash of lightning. Demented voices in monologue animate the succinct ``Lethal,'' where a sexual terrorist begins, ``I just want to touch you a little''; and ``Area Man Found Crucified,'' in which a wounded war veteran, now a vagrant, pleads for death. ``Beauty Salon'' maps the painful, delicate meeting of a convalescing man and the beautiful woman who barbers him. Women are fatal victims of male violence in ``Turquoise'' and ``Murder.'' In ``Bare Legs,'' a willful prostitute hunts for her children and sleeps with truckers; in ``The Date,'' a woman changes clothes in a public lavatory, ``panting like a dog'' as she prepares to couple with yet another man. The tireless Oates ( Black Water ) seems determined to test her technical skills: several tales read like polished exercises. ``Running'' is chiefly a single sentence (over six pages) that mimes the headlong tempo of a runner as she pumps and ponders. ``Forgive Me'' and ``Letter, Lover'' stretch the epistolary mode: in the one, a woman inscribes the same letter to two former lovers, unable to keep them apart in her mind, in the other, obscenely sinister missives open the door to a new relationship. Oates is evidently willing to go anywhere her imagination leads her, and this collection adds several striking pieces to her already wide body of work about threatening situations. (Sept.)