This is Postmodern Gothic at its most supreme, a riotous yet scholarly ride through turn-of-the-20th-century Princeton, where the future US president is yet the rather gingerly secure university president Woodrow Wilson, whom Oates accuses of hushing up a racial murder.
But racism and murder are only part of this picture; a malevolent being lives among citizens who think very highly of themselves and their ambitions, and congratulate themselves on their marriages and their social standing. This is in sharp contrast to the life of Upton Sinclair, for instance, who lives nearby but is a world away, socially, and who has yet to write the books that will make him a household name. A vampiric force, a metaphor for many things in this society, stalks them all, even Sinclair and his wife, but redemption isn’t impossible. Oates is having great baroque fun here, but the scholarly range of her tale is astonishing as she again makes the combination of research and risk-taking look natural and easy.