The new novel by Joyce Carol Oates explores the high price of professional success in the life of one woman, M. R. The first female president of an Ivy League university, she has lofty goals for changing the academic climate on campus, but her ambition clashes with the militaristic post-9/11 political environment. And all the while, the Mudgirl lurks in her past. Oates combines richly observed descriptions and a burgeoning sense of dread to engrossing effect.