A sense of helplessness is the essence of horror, and Oates conveys that feeling as well as any writer around ... Oates’s brand of horror has never required the invocation of other worlds: This world is terrible enough for her. Everything she writes, in whatever genre, has an air of dread, because she deals in vulnerabilities and inevitabilities, in the desperate needs that drive people like Connie and poor young Violet of 'Big Momma' to their fates. A sense of helplessness is the essence of horror, and Oates conveys that feeling as well as any writer around.
This is a collection of six frightening — and deeply disturbing — short stories that defy what even the most hardened booklover might expect from tales of horror and crime. Stories that, for better or for worse, stay with the reader long after they’ve turned the final twisted page ... Ms. Oates imbues each victim and perpetrator with an uncomfortable familiarity — it could be easy to imagine that we could walk by many of these characters on our way to pick up some groceries. That tangibility and realness is where the true terror in these stories can be found ... this particular collection of short stories gives those of us who are fascinated with the more sinister aspects of human behavior the type of release we perhaps, begrudgingly, crave.
...the terrifying tales in The Doll-Master...cover a wide variety of situations and protagonists, and they are certain to stick in your mind long after you’ve turned the last page ... The stories always have an undercurrent of menace poised to break through at any moment. Readers familiar with Oates’ writing in this genre will be satisfied but not surprised by these stories. Anyone whose experience is primarily with her more literary works will find these tales of terror well done and hard to forget.
[The Doll-Master's] six stories are especially bone-chilling because they contain no element of the supernatural. All could have happened in your city or town ... At the heart of each story is a predator-prey relationship, and what makes them so terrifying is that most of us can easily picture ourselves as the prey, at least at some time during our lives. If you're feeling vulnerable, this is not the book for you. Or, perhaps it is — a warning not to trust or give too much when you're not sure of The Other's motives.