Families are mysterious entities, capable of transmitting cruelty and injustice from one generation to the next. Or at least this seems to be the case according to Cardiff, by the Sea, Joyce Carol Oates’s splendidly chilling quartet of previously unpublished novellas. Each of the four stories is set amid a family unit that has already been separated by time, divorce or tragedy. In the most brutal tale, “Phantomwise: 1972”, a nascent family is killed before it has begun.

At the heart of all this suffering, in Oates’s telling, are the women. This is not just a book of anti-male morality; it crackles with dark forces that sneak in and out of view, building a portrait of an untrustworthy universe. Yet to the female victims, Oates also offers the transcendence of escape and revenge...

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