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.