By Joyce Carol Oates. HarperCollins. 336 pages. $24.99.
“I'm drawn to failure,” Joyce Carol Oates once told an interviewer. “I feel that I'm contending with it constantly in my own life.”
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This might strike some as disingenuous given Oates' status as one of the great contemporary American novelists. But she expertly uses failure – of relationships, mainly – as a common thread through most of the short stories collected in “Dear Husband.”
Although nearly all 14 stories have been published elsewhere, they merit a book of their own. Admirers of Oates' literary fiction will find this collection a transcendent read. “Dear Husband” is likely to win Oates new fans as well.
Oates' characters are masterfully rendered, but she is particularly gifted at creating a certain type: the appallingly egocentric, sometimes to the point of unwitting hostility. This character appears often in the stories of “Dear Husband,” from the preoccupied parents of “Special” to the vindictive former housekeeper in “A Princeton Idyll.”
Sometimes Oates' evocative prose plays at least as much of a role as any characters. “Panic” and the whimsically named “Suicide by Fitness Center” are both worthy mood pieces. Especially haunting is “Magda Maria,” in which Oates describes the blighted denizens of a hard-luck town and their desire for a mysterious woman in their midst.
Oates' characters are all self-absorbed to some extent. They all regard themselves as more real than their bystanders, with needs that sometimes conflict and consume but always take precedence. They appear to exist for their own benefit, certainly not the reader's.
While it may seem obvious that any worthwhile fiction will feature such characters, some authors are more skilled at delivering them than others. In this regard, Oates is one of the best.
Dan Scheraga, Associated Press
VISION IN WHITE
By Nora Roberts. Berkley. 325 pages. $16 paperback.
If you read “Vision In White” and don't thoroughly enjoy it, perhaps you should give up reading. It's amusing, touching and completely charming. And nobody else has Nora Roberts' knack for witty insights and sarcasm. She's at her best in “Vision in White.”
Roberts has eschewed all hints of paranormal in her new series, “The Bride Quartet.” The only magic in this story is love.
Four lifelong friends – Mac, Emma, Parker and Laurel – operate a wedding business. They plan, host and direct weddings. Mac (Mackensie) is the photographer of the group. She's a no-nonsense, confident, tough woman who hides a bit of vulnerability and is fiercely loyal to her friends. Then add Carter – a bit clumsy, a bit of a geek, the opposite of suave and debonair. But his sincerity and genuineness give him an irresistible charm.
“Vision In White” is one of those books that you will hate to finish – you don't want to say goodbye to the characters.
Lezlie Patterson, McClatchy-Tribune