The Museum of Dr Moses, By Joyce Carol Oates

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The Independent Culture

Part genre writer, part major American novelist, Joyce Carol Oates has among her many literary honours the Lifetime Achievement Award of the International Horror Writers Guild. Here she travels to the dark side with a collection of disturbing bedside chillers: 10 "tales of mystery and suspense", populated by home-loving psychopaths and preyed-upon wives. The most memorable stories in the book focus on the tortured bonds between parents and children. "Suicide Watch" opens with an expensively-suited businessman visiting his son in police custody, arrested after the disappearance of his girlfriend and two-year old toddler. It's left to the reader to work out whether the young man's account of a parboiled baby – blanched in the scalding bath water – is a true version of events, or something cooked up to terrify his father.

In a yet more gothic vein is the title story, "The Museum of Dr Moses". Oates builds a feeling of dread as a young woman drives to dusty upstate New York to rescue her mother from her new husband – a retired ex-coroner who runs a museum for "the history of medical arts". As the daughter is given a tour of the museum, she comes across the stuff of nightmares: a quart-sized bottle containing a "darkly discoloured fishlike thing", a display case of metal specula and a gigantic eye the "size of a large watermelon". Other stories in the book are no less grisly – Oates's polished prose only adding to their strange appeal.

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