As is true for many of the mournful stories in Joyce Carol Oates’s trenchant and moody new collection, her wonderful Blue Guide is a rhapsodic elegy for the vanishing possibilities of life ... These are dark stories about dark days, suffused, like most of Oates’s work, with themes of violence, loss and longing. She offers possibility here, too, but only as if to say that while the myriad choices we can make may produce wildly different journeys, none of us, ultimately, is spared.
The prolific author has crafted a series of well-written stories about the what-if wonders of a life that’s been, well, lived. You should also know that it is brutal ... Choices are at the heart of what the talented author labors over in this series of 15 stories: how they shape us, change us, leave us wondering and, often, full of regret. Oates is a master of tension and form, her writing dashing across the page to an often devastating conclusion. Her singular style works well here, fueling the stories even as you oftentimes dread them. The author rarely tells a story with a happy ending, because that is not what life is. But the ruminations held within her narratives are worthy, if familiar, reads for a time begging for a bit more introspection.
This collection is not easy to approach because of the different realities and forms of expression it uses—and they might have been useful had they prompted deeper reflections. But not. Several stories, particularly in the first section are littered with trick endings. They seem like writing exercises ... However difficult the stories are to decipher and follow, there is Oates’s language to delight in ... This collection is probably best viewed as a series of experiments in storytelling and because of that will be of interest to those involved in the craft of writing fiction.