Terence C. Greene is envied and admired as the husband of the wealthy, attractive Phyllis and as the executive director of an arts-supporting foundation. Competent at work, Greene never quite overcomes his feelings of inadequacy elsewhere. A jury duty summons and subsequent selection as foreman allow him to guide the decision in an assault case against a man accused of beating Ava-Rose Renfrew. From his first view of colorful, free-spirited Ava-Rose, Greene is lost. His obsession compels him to embezzle funds, steal vehicles and other items, and murder for Ava-Rose and her "family" of unclear relationships and even murkier livelihoods. Although Greene tries to return to his former way of life, he is incapable of staying away from Ava-Rose's milieu-where at novel's end he believes he is happy and in control. The extended sentences, half-stated thoughts, and omniscient yet focused narration underscores Greene's dislocation. For most fiction collections, especially where Smith's (a.k.a. Joyce Carol Oates) psychological suspense titles are in demand.-V. Louise Saylor, Eastern Washington Univ. Lib., Cheney
A cozy suburbanite who's won it all loses it, and perhaps his mind as well, when a summons to jury duty throws him together with a bewitching assault victim, in the sixth and most elaborate of Smith's neo-gothic fantasies (You Can't Catch Me, 1995, etc.).
Who could be more comfortable, more utterly natural in his setting, than Terence Green, the foundation director who commutes home each day to his wealthy, glamorous wife and two daughters (a son is at Dartmouth) in comfy Queenston, New Jersey? But all that changes when he's asked to judge the case of Ava-Rose Renfrew, who's accused one T.W. Binder of assaulting her. Suddenly infatuated with Ava-Rose, Terence finds himself rising to persuade his wavering fellow-jurors to convict Binder, then hanging around Ava-Rose's neighborhood and getting sucked into her raffish entourage. Soon he's swapping stories with her aunt Holly Mae Loomis and her Cap'n-Uncle Riff, flirting with her twin nieces Dara and Dana, and, inevitably, bedding sweet Ava-Rose herself. And soon he's paying for his enchantment not only with the foundation's money, pinched with unwonted dexterity, but with his peace of mindhis double life has stirred obscure memories of the early life his upscale marriage rescued him fromand perhaps his freedom as well, as he slips into murder with the same horrible facility and self-excusing glibness that marked his descent into romantic obsession. (There's even a murder he's not sure he's committed, a disconcerting complement to the general weightlessness of his other misdeeds.) Meantime, he's getting broad hints, in Smith's most overwrought style, that Ava-Rose is not what she seems; in fact, she may be nothing but an optical illusion.
It's a mark of both Smith's unsettling power and its limitations that Terence's wayward obsession is so much stronger and more believable than the shadowy woman who inspires it, or even than Terence himself.