'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.