By Joyce Carol Oates. (GroveAtlantic/Mysterious Press, 216 pages, $23.)
The subtitle of Joyce Carol Oates’ latest Goth-tinged collection, “Four Novellas of Love Gone Wrong,” is an understatement: Love doesn’t just go wrong between Oates’ characters, it blows up, drips poison, tortures, kills. Oates tends to churn out brilliant, creepy novels like black taffy at Halloween, but this is among her better quick-turn efforts. Each of its novellas makes your skin crawl even as it also seems completely believable, like something you heard once, from where, you can’t remember. (That could be due to Oates’ habit of getting story ideas from newspaper headlines.)
In the best of the novellas, also called “Evil Eye,” the young fourth wife of a California tycoon finds herself entertaining her husband’s first wife, who seems, horribly, to be missing an eyeball — or is she? It’s hard to tell in these stories who’s the villain, victim or innocent witness/narrator. If Edgar Allan Poe had written stories set in America’s gleaming mansions, frat houses, high schools and small-town cemeteries, they would probably read like these.
PAMELA MILLER, west metro team leader
THE UNIVERSE VERSUS ALEX WOODS
By Gavin Extence. (Redhook, 416 pages, $26.)
Life is a challenge for teenager Alex Woods, even before the meteor falls on his head. A target for bullies because of his bookishness and his fortunetelling mother, Alex finds himself in the hospital and in the news when the rock falls from the sky, through his roof and smack onto his head. He survives, though he must learn to cope with frequent epileptic fits. One day, while being chased by some toughs, he meets cranky Mr. Peterson when he breaks into his shed to hide. They become unlikely friends; Alex helps Mr. Peterson write letters for Amnesty International, while Mr. Peterson introduces Alex to the works of Kurt Vonnegut. As it goes in these types of relationships, each learns important life lessons from the other. This quirky British debut novel dragged a bit and wasn’t at all “laugh-out-loud funny,” as promised by one dust jacket review, but it was an interesting story nonetheless.
Judy Romanowich Smith, news designer