Books: Demon's Grip YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS

by Joyce Carol Oates Dutton; 436 pages; $19.95

References to Joyce Carol Oates are usually modified by "prolific," used in a sniffy way as if she were promiscuous with her word processor. The idea that nice authors don't write around (18 novels, dozens of short stories, poems, criticism and a book on boxing) is consistent with a period that is excessively self-conscious about its artistic urges. It is unlikely that Victor Hugo, Balzac or Trollope was ever accused of scriptomania.

A more reasonable complaint is that Oates' taste for disaster frequently exceeds the appetite of her readers. This was not always so, especially in earlier novels like them (1969),...