on the average, a book a year, and then”Oates fiction factory” (as one critic hasncalled her talent) is one industry seeminglynunaffected by recession or supplysideneconomics. By contrast, Polish-CanadiannHelen Weinzweig, now nearingnseventy, published her only other novelnabout ten years ago, while AustraliannHelen Garner, about forty, is publishingnher first. Although the three women varynin age, nationality and productivity, togethernthey lend support to the thesisnthat literary tackiness is limited bynneither time nor place.nThese three books reflect the moralnand aesthetic atrophy that characterizes ancertain segment of modern fiction. Notnonly are they concerned with the threadbarentheme of modern alienation, butnthey also use rather stale plots. Garnernand Weinzweig write about pathetic andnmindless women tied to faithless andnflawed lovers, while Oates wastes her allegedntalent and time on two young peoplenwhose fantasies of familial and socialnbetrayal lead them to murder and terrorism.nLike too many contemporarynwriters, they have sold out to the medianand to academic reviewers who hypentheir books and give them a nice incomenon the college reading circuit.nVjarner’s book is set in thenmid-1970’s in Melbourne, Australia,nand presents an unmarried narrator ofnthirty-three, who is involved in a seedynlove affair with a dmg-sodden actor tennyears her junior. Although she recognizesnhim as a moral and physical derelict, shenis as dependent upon him as he is onndope. Unable to escape either him or thengmbby commune in which she lives, shenfinally resigns herself to a miserable lifetimenof waiting for her lover: “Well… sonbe it. Let it be what it is,” is the profoundnwisdom upon which she spiritually subsists.nShe recognizes that in “the heartnvery little happened,” that she and hernfriends in the commune have simplyn” thrashed about swapping and changingnpartners.” As a feminist she senses thatnthere must be something worthwhile innlife, perhaps even her precocious daugh­n3 4 ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^nChronicles of Cttlturenter, but she can’t find it; indeed, shendoesn’t even try. Love and drugs arensimply momentary sensations that lightnher way to a dusty death: “Smack habit,nlove habit—what’s the difference? Theyncan both kill you.”nWeinzweig’s story is narrated by annolder woman whose life is frittered awaynin dull reunions with her shadowy lover,nwho schedules their brief trysts throughnan elaborate code derived from copies ofnNational Geographic. She spends mostnof her time waiting in hotel roomsnaround the world, thumbing throughnher collection of post cards from citiesnwhere she has slept with him and thinkingnabout her drab existence. In thenmeantime she stays married to her faithlessnhusband until she reluctantly shares anbed with him and his mistress while theynmake love and she fantasizes sexuallynabout a new acquaintance, a Mennonitenecologist, for whom she soon desertsnboth lover and husband as the bookngrinds to an end.nJoyce Carol Oates’s novel is the onlynone of the three to transcend the level ofnthe drugstore pulp, but it too is badlynflawed, in this case by her reliance uponnwhat one critic has called her “unprunedngarden of high gothic romance.” Anbrother and sister—ages 21 and 17 respectively—setnout to avenge the disgracenand mysterious death of theirnSince Oates seems to be unable to makenup her mind, the result is an incoherentnpolitico-sexual soap opera. Much betternought to be expected from a writernconsidered by some to be among the majornfeminine writing talents of herngeneration.nThere are, however, occasionalnglimpses of her potential—for example,na passing description of a very recentnpresident: ” a fool who also happens to bena failure.” And a delicious parody ofnMarxist political inanity:nMight as well bring it all downn—America. The world. The city. Thenneighborhood. Flames to the sky, anfuneral pyre. . . . The error of liberalnthinking. Counterproductive. Retardingnthe revolution. . . . We of thenAmerican Silver Doves RevolutionarynArmy do hereby declare NEVER tonsubmit to the murder, exploitation,nand oppression of the world’s populationnin the name of American FascisticnCapitalist Imperialism.nAngel of Light demonstrates thenchronic weaknesses of Oates’s work (andnthat of many of her contemporaries asnwell). She seems to be able to write onlynabout compulsives who spout fashionablensocial and political cliches and expendntheir lives in brutal and self-destructivenways. Her themes are too oftennthose of the TV melodrama—murder,n”I’m impressed too by how dearly [Oates] remembers that her first duty is not to judgenbut to understand. … a strong and fascinating novel on its own terms.”n—New York Times Book Reviewnfather, a federal official accused ofnwrongdoing who was killed in a mysteriousnauto accident. Both these self-righteousnyoung people see themselves as reincarnationsnof their famous ancestor,nabolitionist John Brown, Thoreau’sn”Angel of Light.” In pursuing their revenge,nthey become the intellectualnslaves of a terrorist organization and soonnbegin mouthing the old Marxist clichesnabout fascism, imperialism and America.nThe major problem with the book isnthat it has no focus, no sense of purpose.nnnpsychological violence, sexual adventurism,nparanoia—while her attempts tontreat more serious matters are usuallynsimplistic and trivial. While thesenthemes may result in luscious sales in thensuburbs, they do little to create fictionnwhich speaks to the human dilemma andnthe problems that pull and tear at thenspirit.nVJarner, Oates and Weinzweig recreatenthe modish image of the world inncontemporary fiction, a kind of Hobbes-n