Joyce Carol Oates has the ability to instill creeping dread, not unlike Shirley Jackson and Flannery O'Connor. These stories dwell on the horror of the unknown, drawing out tension while playing upon the terror of the characters.
The William Blake quote in the beginning of the book sums it up best:
"Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to Endless Night"
A few of these stories were too grotesque even for me, but most stand out.
Here are the ones that most resonated with me"
- Death Mother
- The Hand Puppet
- The Collector of Hearts
The collection ends with "The Journey", which begins with explicit imagery:
"How slowly the journey begins. Traversing the lush green landscape by inches. Weeks are required to cover mere miles. Each blade of grass, each sticky moist bud, blossom, tendril, exposed root distinct. You learn not to suck them into your mouth though your instinct is to do so. You smell them, you touch them with wondering fingers. So dense is the snarled foliage overhead you rarely see the sun and have no word for sun but you feel its humid heat that seems not only to descend upon you but to rise up out of the rich dark fecund earth. Soft as flesh. The earth is flesh."
It reminds me of the end of Yeats's "The Second Coming":
"And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"
Both touch upon the horror of the unknown, of inevitable ruin and desecration. Those who delight in dark fiction should give this collection a read.