The extent to which you appreciate this novel will depend partly on how dystopia-friendly you are. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go might keep this book company were it not that they are more substantial nightmares. By comparison, this appears skeletal, super-intelligent, yet somehow depleted. It seems to have been written in an abbreviated rush, as though the fictional imperative of not saying too much had affected the telling of the story...Joyce Carol Oates is mistress of instability – quicksand her element here. She writes convincingly about the pervasive misery of living in fear, the loneliness of it
The plot quickly gets snarled up in BF Skinner’s theories of behaviourism, which the kids won’t find all that rewarding... Adults, though, may be intrigued to see Oates’ sly efforts to create a time loop... the story’s unpredictable shocks may reduce readers to a state of learned helplessness. Nothing – including a happy ending – is as it seems in this accelerating swirl of political and academic satire, science fiction and romantic melodrama. At 80, after more than 40 novels, Oates is still casting some awfully dark magic.