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High Crime Area: Tales of Darkness and Dread

High Crime Area


Author: Joyce Carol Oates
 Mysterious Press
Year: 2014
Length: 247 pages


Publisher's Blurb

Joyce Carol Oates is an unparalleled investigator of human flaws. In these eight stories, she deftly tests the bonds between damaged individuals—a brother and sister, a teacher and student, two strangers on a subway—in the fearless prose for which she’s become so celebrated.

In the title story, a white aspiring professor is convinced she is being followed. No need to panic—she has a handgun stowed away in her purse, just in case. But when she turns to confront her black male shadow, the situation isn’t what she expects. In “The Rescuer,” a promising graduate student detours to inner-city Trenton, New Jersey, to save her brother from a downward spiral. But she soon finds out there may be more to his world than to hers. And in “The Last Man of Letters,” the world-renowned author X embarks on a final grand tour of Europe. He has money, fame, but not a whole lot of manners. A little thing like etiquette couldn’t bring a man like X down, could it? In these biting and beautiful pieces, Oates confronts, one by one, the demons within us. Sometimes it’s the human who wins, and sometimes it’s the demon.


  • The Home at Craigmillnar
  • High
  • Toad-Baby
  • Demon
  • Lorelei
  • The Rescuer
  • The Last Man of Letters
  • High Crime Area


From "High Crime Area"

Detroit, Michigan. April 1967.

One of them is following me. I think it must be the same (male, black) figure I’ve seen in the past. But I could be mistaken.

From the rear entrance of Starret Hall at the edge of the Wayne State University campus, through faculty parking B, along a littered pedestrian walkway that opens onto Cass Avenue —I am aware of this lone figure behind me as you’d be aware of small flames licking at the edge of your vision. Thinking There is no one. And even if there is someone, I will not look.

Ascending concrete steps, nearly turning an ankle. Walking too quickly. Will not look!

It’s 6:25 P.M. Not yet dusk. Not yet, the bright arc lights that illuminate certain near-deserted walkways and corners of the sprawling urban campus.

For days the sky above Detroit has been overcast and wintry. A fine red-ashy haze when shards of sun push through the clouds, from factories in River Rouge. As the sky darkens, the air seems to coarsen. Your eyes and lungs smart, it’s a mistake to walk too quickly—in the desolate streets at this edge of the University, a hurrying figure is an alarming sight.

Sudden shouts, screams—you don’t want to hear.

Rapidly my brain works: is the (male, black) figuring following a woman who happens to be me; or is the (male, black) figure following me?

If it’s just a (white, lone) woman who is being followed, I will be able to elude the (male, black) figure—I think. If it’s me who is being followed, the situation is more serious.

I am prepared, this time: I am armed.


  • Donna Seaman, Booklist, February 15, 2014
    5 Stars
    "Oates extends her inquiry into the racial divide and returns to another of her signature settings, Detroit circa 1967, in the exquisitely frank and distressing title story about the fears of a young, white English teacher. Powerhouse Oates brings both exterior and interior worlds into excruciatingly sharp focus, evoking dread, grim exaltation, and the paralysis of prey."

  • Publishers Weekly, January 13, 2014, pp. 49-50
    4 Stars
    "Oates is at her best depicting characters who seem perplexed by theit own needs, desires, and obligations, and readers seeking tidy resolutions and clear endings won't find them in these tales.."

  • Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2014
    4 Stars
    "Oates is at her best here when she’s writing about floundering academics thrust into situations for which they’re hopelessly ill-prepared. Oates’ mastery of imagery and stream of consciousness enhances the gritty settings and the frailties of her grotesque and pitiable subjects."