Oates's latest collection explores certain favorite Oatesian themes, primary among them violence, loss, and privilege. Three of the stories feature white, upper-class, educated widows whose sheltered married lives have left them unprepared for life alone. In "Pumpkin-Head" and "Sourland," the widows--Hadley in the first story, Sophie in the second--encounter a class of Oatesian male: predatory, needy lurkers just out of prosperity's reach. In the first story, our lurker is Anton Kruppe, a Central European immigrant and vague acquaintance of Hadley whose frustrations boil over in a disastrous way. In the second story, Sophie is contacted by Jeremiah, an old friend of her late husband, and eventually visits him in middle-of-nowhere northern Minnesota, where she discovers, too late, his true intentions. The third widow story, "Probate," concerns Adrienne Myer's surreal visit to the courthouse to register her late husband's will, but Oates has other plans for Adrienne, who is soon lost in a warped bureaucratic funhouse worthy of Kafka. Oates's fiction has the curious, morbid draw of a flaming car wreck. It's a testament to Oates's talent that she can nearly always force the reader to look. (Sept.)
“Admirers of Oates’ literary fiction will find this collection a transcendent read. Dear Husband is likely to win Oates new fans as well. Oates’ characters are masterfully rendered, but she is particularly gifted at creating a certain type: The appallingly egocentric, sometimes to the point of unwitting hostility.”
“America simmers in the writings of Joyce Carol Oates, going through the motions of everyday life as best it can, but prone to boiling over at any moment. Oatess . . . has once again held a haunting mirror up to America, revealing who we are.”
This collection could be used as a master class in the art of pure, suspenseful storytelling. There are real plots here, fascinating psychological and domestic mysteries we need to solve, portraying people we want to understand…Oates is a dangerous writer in the best sense of the word, one who takes risks almost obsessively, with energy and relish. For a writer in her early 70s, she continues to be wonderfully, unnervingly anarchic, experimental, angry. As if her aim were not to satisfy or entertainthough she always does bothbut to do the vandalistic prose equivalent of spray-painting or setting fire to bins in public parks.
The New York Times
Philadelphia City Paper
“Oates explores incest, death by fitness center, accidental death; it’s not light reading, but twined into these human tragedies are bits and pieces found in all our lives.”
“Although nearly all 14 stories have been published elsewhere, they merit a book of their own. Admirers of Oates’ literary fiction will find this collection a transcendent read. Dear Husband is likely to win Oates new fans as well. Oates’ characters are masterfully rendered.”
“Making sense of life in a cataclysmic inner and outer landscape has been Joyce Carol Oates’ obsession for five decades. This evocative new collection shows just how much sense she can make of it now.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“...Innovative, brilliant...there are sentences that leave a deeply sensuous pleasure in their wake...”
New York Times
“A master class in the art of pure, suspenseful storytelling...Oates is a dangerous writer in the best sense of the word, one who takes risks almost obsessively with energy and relish… [a] dazzling collection.”
Los Angeles Times
“We think of Oates, like Poe, as a master of terror, but her real mastery is in almost never depicting a strong emotion in isolation...Oates makes for a caustic companion in Sourland - a fearless experimenter forcing the reader ahead of her at knifepoint.”
“Oates remains . . . a living master of the short story-far more virtuosic in manner than the ecstatic realist she is usually taken to be and far more at home in the form, too.”
More of (mostly) the same in Oates's latest collection of 16 in-your-face short stories.
Faithful readers will note the familiar mixture of vividly conceived psychodramas redeemed by raw intensity and immediacy, and clichéd depictions of vulnerable and victimized souls dominated by overdrawn avatars of ego and appetite. The latter include a clenched account of a suburban mom's joyless dalliance with an unfeeling, abusive lover ("Babysitter"); a recent widow's predictable Kafkaesque entrapment in the coils of the legal system ("Probate"); and the seemingly endless tale of an uprooted family destined to make ruinously wrong decisions, notably its "sensitive" daughter's attraction to the romantic sociopathy of her sullen male cousin ("Honor Code"). When not idling along at her worst, Oates shows flashes of the gritty hyperbolic lucidity that can make her stories rattle around in your head for days after you've read them. She manages credible and moving empathy in relating the experiences of another recent widow hopelessly drawn to a creepy admirer ("Pumpkin-Head"); a former gang member hoping against hope to become a responsible adult ("Bounty Hunter"); a boy desperate to make any sacrifice that might enable his ailing hospital-bound father to recover ("The Barter"); and an alienated teenager ("Bitch") seduced almost magically back into caring for her moribund father. Even the better of these stories are blemished by contrivance and shrillness, as is even the volume's rightful centerpiece, its title story, in which a woman still yearning for her recently deceased husband accepts an invitation to visit the latter's sinister old acquaintance—a recluse who refers cryptically to himself as a "pilgrim in perpetual quest." In fact he is, as explicit symbolism makes clear, her immediate future and destiny. Despite its forced awkwardness, this is one of the author's strongest and most haunting stories in years.
Oates being Oates. Let the reader beware.