Oates’s tenth novel, Unholy Loves contrasts somewhat with her earlier novels in having “struck a cooler note amid the more extreme imaginings,” according to a Times Literary Supplement reviewer. A balance between the masked and naked world is more consistently maintained here than in the earlier works. In the academic world, as illustrated in the retirement luncheon for Gladys Fetler, the fantasies and the bitter disappointments are absorbed by the warmth of experiences shared. Even the most isolated person participates in the sense of community by his or her very presence. “The myth of the isolated self,” Oates has said, “will be the most difficult to destroy.” In her stories about academia, dark and satiric though they may appear, isolation and self-destruction are mitigated by the communal sense.
Oates belongs to a select community of writers whose bizarre and savagely cruel world pits the forces of life and those of destruction against each other within an individual, a struggle mirrored in one’s social conduct and the external world. Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoevski, and Joseph Conrad (and earlier, Sophocles and Shakespeare) lead that community of authors.