The “tales of mystery and suspense” in Joyce Carol Oates’ The Museum of Dr. Moses are sneaky little things. The horror comes in on cat’s paws, barely noticeable.
The full impact doesn’t hit until a few hours or days or even weeks after you have set the book aside and gone on to cheerier things: whistling happy Broadway show tunes, picking daisies in a sun-drenched field, or eating a heavenly slice of lemon-meringue pie. Then, as your mind drifts back to the stories and you start to think about the sub-surface tension or picture some of those indelible images, then and only then does it smack you. BAM! You might even drop your fork as the lemon pie goes sour on your tongue.
As she has done in earlier collections like The Female of the Species, Oates builds the tension slowly, carefully, then turns everything on its head in one sharp Moment of Startle. Think of it as a dull knife pressing into your forearm, pressing, pressing, pressing, until finally the skin succumbs, breaks with a pop! and you are sprayed with arterial blood — something you knew was there but never expected to see. That’s how Joyce Carol Oates leaps out at you: you suspected she was crouched behind the corner, but when it happens — that turn of the story — you still jump and give a little hiccup of a scream.
The full review is here.