The tale of twin brothers Edward and Edgar Waldman; the former small and sickly, the latter healthy and successful, having literally been a parasite on his brother in the womb. As their lives progress, the ‘demon brother’ Edgar becomes a Congressman, and Edward remains in the family home, the reclusive painter of a series of grotesque pieces – and an elegant reversal gets underway.
Oates’s prose is dense, with long paragraphs and repeated phrases, which has the effect of putting distance between the reader and events – there’s no forgetting that this a story being told. It heightens the sense of strangeness, and is particularly effective towards the beginning, when one gets caught up in the swirl of words describing the twins in the womb and as young children. Oates doesn’t maintain quite the same level of intensity throughout the story, but ‘Fossil-Figures’ is still a worthwhile read.