With a 50-year career that takes in novels, short stories, young adult fiction, poetry, reviews, and edited anthologies as well as book-length memoirs and essays ranging from widowhood to boxing, keeping up with the astonishing literary output of Joyce Carol Oates is a job of work. But it’s an occupation that never feels like a chore, such is the emotional pull of her prose and the thrilling sense of dread in her stories.
Her latest collection – though another one will probably turn up any minute – is lyrical, elegant and shocking in a way you might not anticipate from such an admired woman of letters. The novella that gives the book its title is the case of a missing girl told from multiple perspectives in which Oates adroitly pairs adult emotions of guilt, regret and loss with an adolescent rage that threatens to explode into ritual killing. There’s also a brace of tales about evil twins, a devastating story about a jealous sibling and a breathless account of a plastic surgeon losing his grip – literally – that’s just plain nasty. Edgar Allan Poe is clearly a lifelong influence on Oates’s intricate, intoxicating horror. Once you wander in, the temptation to lose yourself in her literary backlist may be hard to resist.