AUTHOR: JOYCE CAROL OATES
PUBLISHER: MODERN LIBRARY
GENRE: GENERAL FICTION
BLURB FROM THE BACK COVER
Joyce Carol Oates’s Wonderland Quartet comprises four remarkable novels that explore social class in America and the inner lives of young Americans. Spanning from the Great Depression to the turbulent Vietnam War era, Wonderland is the epic account of Jesse Vogel, a boy who emerged from a family tragedy with his life spared but his world torn apart. Orphaned after watching his father murder his entire family, Jesse embarks on a personal odyssey that takes him from a Dickensian foster home to college and graduate school to the pinnacle of the medical profession. As an adult, Jesse must summon the strength to reach across the “generation gap” and rescue his endangered teenaged daughter, who has fallen into the drug-infused 1960s counterculture.
Hailed by Library Journal as “the greatest of Oates’s novels,” Wonderland is the capstone of a magnificent literary excursion that plunges beneath the glossy surface of American life.
Wonderland is the final novel in Joyce Carol Oates’s Wonderland Quartet. The books that complete this acclaimed series, A Garden of Earthly Delights, Expensive People, and them, are also available from the Modern Library…
Wonderland looks at the complexities of relationships between parents and children, husband and wife, family members and relationships between work colleagues.
The novel opens powerfully with Jesse running into the woods to escape his crazed father who’s used a shotgun to murder his mother and siblings. Jesse escapes and his father commits suicide. Oates manages to convey this without any blood and gore. In the hands of a lesser writer there would be blood guts and puke everywhere.
From this dazzling opening Oates propels you though Jesse’s life; his adoption by the family of a renowned doctor, his exile from his adoptive family, his years as a Medical Student at Ann Arbour, his marriage, the birth of his children, his gradual rise to medical renown and his desperate attempt to save his teenage daughter from her drug-dealer boyfriend.
These events are played out against the back-drop of key moments in History including Word War II, The Vietnam War and the assassination of JFK.
Oates is great and taking you deep inside her characters psyche. She creates complex characters you become to know as well as your own family.
Jesse is not an easy character to like. Oates makes you feel sympathy for him at the start of the novel because he’s a survivor of a terrible event. However, as he becomes an adult he starts to act more and more like his adoptive father who was cold, unloving, unemotional and obsessed with his work. His wife is little more than a figurehead. He’s isolated from his children. He contemplates an affair with a strange women he only sees a couple of times. His work is his life. I found him quite dislikeable by the end of Wonderland.
Oates is great at description. Her novels are so vivid and so real. I felt intimate with her characters. I felt like I’d actually walked the streets of the places she described. The characters and geography of Wonderland became as familiar as my own life.
Oates is great at tackling complex issues. Wonderland is no exception.
Wonderland is written in the third person and told through Jesse’s eyes. As I read I felt like it was written in the first person because Oates is so good at getting right inside her characters head.
Wonderland is a great novel that explores the complexities of relationships and surviving childhood trauma. It’s the final novel in her Wonderland Quartet. The other books are A Garden of Earthly Delights, Expensive People and them. The novels are thematically linked and can be read as stand-alone novels. The Wonderland Quartet looks at different socioeconomic groups in America. You don’t need to have read the other three novels or know of their existence to enjoy Wonderland.
THE OPENING LINE
Jesse wakes, startled…
I had a great time reading Wonderland. It’s one of Oates strongest novels. I can’t find a single fault with it. I might read the four books in the Quartet collectively one day to see how obvious (not lot) the links and themes are.