Ingrid Boone, the 21-year-old narrator of Joyce Carol Oates's 27th novel, is the scarred child of willful and careless parents: a father on the lam for murder and a mother whose beauty and neediness guarantee that there will always be a man around the house. Both loved and abandoned, Ingrid uses her burgeoning sexuality to find friends and acceptance but instead self-destructs, becoming the slave of a satanic biker-cult leader in Upstate New York. "It wasn't my life but a life that seemed to be happening, like weather," Ingrid says of her ordeal.
For Oates, the ability to portray chillingly and accurately the physical and emotional horror visited upon vulnerable souls—chiefly women, children and animals—is by now a well-honed art; no one does it better. In Man Crazy, the story hurtles forward breathlessly, the prose is mesmerizing and powerful, but finally the reader is numbed. You can twist uncomfortably at Ingrid Boone's tale of abuse and redemption, but it won't touch your heart. (Dutton, $23.95)