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Joshua Seigl, a celebrated but reclusive author, is forced for reasons of failing health to surrender his much-prized bachelor's independence. Advertising for an assistant, he unwittingly embarks upon the most dangerous adventure of his privileged life.

Alma Busch, a sensuous, physically attractive young woman with bizarre tattoos covering much of her body, stirs in Seigl a complex of emotions: pity? desire? responsibility? guilt? Unaware of her painful past and her troubled personality, Seigl hires her as his assistant. As the novel alternates between Seigl's and Alma's points of view, the naïve altruism of the one and the virulent anti-Semitism of the other clash in a tragedy of thwarted erotic desire.

With her masterful balance of dark suspense and surprising tenderness, Joyce Carol Oates probes the contemporary tragedy of ethnic hatred and challenges our accepted limits of desire. The Tattooed Girl may be her most controversial novel.

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