Joyce Carol Oates’ psychological prowess weaves together tales of sexual tension and erotic terror. Does that sound like fun? In Night-Gaunts, creepily, it is. Add in the socially informed backbone to her cutting-edge collection of short stories, and the consequence is a highly aware form of prolonged horror ... The writing is sharp and creative, and the reading goes fast. The suspense in Oates’ stories is a visceral yearning to explore sexuality in a raw yet inventive way. Her scenarios are certainly inspired ... But there is so much more to Oates’ work than the grotesque. She has the ability to amaze with her formidable perception. One gets the feeling there is some uncanny insight into human behavior in ways of intimacy, sexuality and horror that only she understands. And it is all delivered with the pop of a gifted writer ... In this volume, she strikes a balance between being realistically morbid and literary in the utmost sense. It is unreal how much she understands the many kinds of behaviors that drive people.
'What if Edgar Allan Poe’s stories actually cared about women, instead of turning all of them into comely, corseted objects of obsession?' That’s the idea behind most of the six stories in Oates’ new collection ... A few of the stories ask us to identify with a protagonist and then pull a switcheroo, revealing that we’ve chosen to side with someone who’s cooking up a nasty plan ... honestly none of the stories approach the creeping dread of Poe or H.P. Lovecraft, who inspired the title tale. But even when they’re not especially thrilling, Oates’ stories remain insightful meditations on the notion that the real monsters are not zombies or vampires but loneliness, inhumanity and despair.
Although the first story starts out nicely, the highly touted 'tales of suspense' don’t quite live up to the hype and the cohesiveness of the collection just falls flat and uninspiring. The whole assemblage feels extremely voyeuristic as we witness each character in the midst of their routine and mundane lives ... Overall, there’s an oddness to the prose that isn’t easily explained and connecting with the characters is difficult. There wasn’t anything about the stories that was very suspenseful or mysterious. In the end as we traverse the complex labyrinth between purpose and scruples, we’re left with more questions than answers.
In Oates’s shorter fictions, she excels, especially in her volumes of 'macabre' or 'suspense' stories, such as the latest, Night-Gaunts ... this one doesn’t let go until it’s finished with you ... There are other good stories here, such as 'The Long-Legged Girl' or 'The Woman in the Window,' both of which develop from Oates’s recurring narrative obsessions about older men seeking to dominate younger women and the younger woman who let them (until, often quite violently, they stop). But there are also some over-long, broken-backed stories in here too.
The anthology is marred by a few stylistic shortcomings. While I consider myself a fan of the author’s liberal use of parentheses, what tantalizes in moderate measure can become tedious ... Ultimately, however, Night-Gaunts is another vehicle that showcases Oates’s expansive storytelling ambitions, not to mention the seemingly boundless breadth of her talents. Though united by tone and temperament, each piece succeeds singularly even as the totality of the work (mostly) exceeds the sum of its parts.
I’m about equally divided between 'Wow!' and 'Whoa!' ... As an actual toiler in the fields of mental health, and specifically the fields of Butler Hospital, how can I not be taken aback by the representation (albeit fictional) of one of our nurses betraying patient confidentiality? ... I think that’s leading me into my main 'Wow!' for Night-Gaunts, which is, the night-gaunts ... These, as I read them, are brilliant representations of disease as demon ... I’m not sure what to make of the pseudo-biographical nature of Night-Gaunts ... who’s the imagined reader for all this? I couldn’t tell whether I was meant to be a Lovecraftian scholar...or should I have been someone with only casual knowledge of the real biography, assuming Horace’s abuse and supernatural experiences as only lightly fictionalized? Or—Oates has readers coming from the literary fiction genre as well as horror—what would a reader entirely unaware of Lovecraft’s life get out of Night-Gaunts?
A longtime master of the unreliable narrator, Oates lures the reader into compacts with characters whose sympathies turn out to be warped or downright murderous ... It is a fever dream of a story—forthrightly nightmarish—which gleefully transgresses the boundaries of identity politics in favor of the earthiest of human truths, and yet there is very little work done to examine the moral implications of the situation from the other side of those boundaries ... Consummately well-written, stylistically dashing, but lacking a commitment to engage with the trickier dilemmas of race, class, and gender Oates uses to motivate her plots.
...may raise the hackles of #MeToo supporters. The upsetting journey is in no way redeemed by the slapdash resolution. Oates pushes the boundary between the disturbing and the offensive with mixed results.
Each of the stories in this most recent collection from Joyce Carol Oates originally appeared in other publications. It may be that reading them separate from each other would have allowed each one to stand on its own, thereby heightening the reader’s appreciation. In putting them together, neither the whole nor the parts benefit. How so? The author’s repetitive narrative tics — such as her intentional overuse of parenthetical phrases — nag to the point of intrusiveness. She also uses the avoidance of names to make a point: the cruel Sunday school teacher in ‘Sign of the Beast’ is too evil to be named; the obedient Asian lab technician in ‘The Experimental Subject’ is a useful but obscure functionary. Unfortunately, the constant use of ‘Mrs. S___’ for the one and ‘N___’ for the other is simply aggravating … A little disconcerting, though, is the amount of attentive detail given to cataloging the physical defects of characters like Elinor and Mary Frances to the point that it feels like the author’s personal disdain speaking. And yet, I might not have noted that if I hadn’t read these stories in collection.