The Doll-Master by Joyce Carol Oates review – chilling short-story melodramas

These macabre tales, set in ordinary American lives, resist easy closure

Throughout her extraordinarily prolific career, Joyce Carol Oates’s work has always embraced aspects of the macabre. In her new collection, The Doll-Master, she relishes moments of gothic melodrama, while rooting them firmlyin grindingly ordinary American lives. Her characters are often people who have fallen through the cracks; their desire for connection with others warps into something dark and dangerous.

The most chilling story is Soldier, a first‑person account of a murder that broadens into an examination of America’s most painful divisions over guns and race. As with all the stories here, it ends as if with the final scene missing, resisting easy closure; in each case the reckoning is implied but withheld, left to the reader’s imagination, leaving you with an uneasy sense of incompleteness. Overall, it’s a collection that displays Oates’s ability to inhabit distinctive voices to chilling effect.

The Doll-Master is published by Head of Zeus (£18.99). Click here to order a copy for £15.19


Stephanie Merritt

The GuardianTramp

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