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A Garden of Earthly Delights (Wonderland Quartet #1)

3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  1,171 Ratings  ·  115 Reviews
Joyce Carol Oates’s Wonderland Quartet comprises four remarkable novels that explore social class in America and the inner lives of young Americans. In A Garden of Earthly Delights, Oates presents one of her most memorable heroines, Clara Walpole, the beautiful daughter of Kentucky-born migrant farmworkers. Desperate to rise above her haphazard existence of violence and po ...more
Paperback, 406 pages
Published April 22nd 2003 by Modern Library (first published 1967)
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Larry Bassett
Feb 20, 2013 Larry Bassett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This book was published in 1967 and is the first book of the Wonderland Quartet. That year I was a junior at the University of Michigan, married with a one year old son. I had recently avoided being drafted because I was a father. I worked almost full time at the Ann Arbor Post Office as an evening special delivery carrier. I would end up having an English major with only the slightest knowledge of Joyce Carol Oates who was 29 when A Garden of Earthly Delights was published.

In this book JCO writ
May 22, 2016 Julie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Garden of Earthly Delights by Joyce Carol Oates is a 2009 Random House publication.

At some point in time, I acquired a paperback copy of ‘Expensive People’ the second book in the ‘Wonderland Quartet’. It has been sitting on my shelves for several years, but recently I have been craving something different, so I took this book down, planning to read it immediately, only to discover it was part of a quartet of books, and although no one has said it was absolutely necessary to read the books in
Mar 31, 2011 Debby rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-star-books
Joyce Carol Oates originally wrote this book in 1965. In 2002, she decided to rewrite the book and give a greater voice and depth to the main characters in the book without changing the overall story or the characters. She ended up rewriting 3/4 of the book. I don't know what the original book was like, but this edition is fantastic.

This is the story of Clara, the young, beautiful daughter of migrant farmworkers, who is determined to get out of this nomadic life of violence, poverty and prejudi
Apr 29, 2009 El rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Janice, Belinda
After a ten year boycott on all things Oatesian, I picked up this particular Oates book on the basis that it sounded like none of the other books by her that I had read before, thus the appeal. From the beginning of this book I was not disappointed.

The first book in the Wonderland quartet, the story starts in the life of Carleton Walpole, a migrant worker who is on the road with his exceptionally pregnant wife. During an accident Carleton's wife gives birth to Clara who becomes the apple of Carl
Jun 19, 2009 Kaylia rated it it was amazing
Every now and then I read a book and while reading it I think “Now, this, this is literature.” I am then usually filled with a conflict of emotions. On the one hand I am humbled and amazed and think that there is no way I will ever be able to write something like this. On the other hand I am giddy with delight and grateful that my eyes continue to allow me read things like this. Such is the case of Joyce Carol Oates’ A Garden of Earthly Delights.

Now, Oates is a bit of an acquired taste… her pros
Mar 20, 2013 Meghana rated it really liked it
This is not a book for the fainthearted when it comes to reading stamina. Oates is a prolific, masterful writer and A Garden of Earthly Delights comes alive with her prose.

The story revolves around the beautiful Clara, and her life and circumstances that are shaped by the three men in her life- her father, her husband, and her son. It was difficult for me to get through the first third of the book, about Clara and her wilful father Carleton, because the writing was so harsh and choppy, it requi
May 22, 2012 Kerfe rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
I wanted to like this book more than I did. In a way it's like an old Appalachian folk song, with gothic overtones: you can see the bad ending a mile away.

Oates evidently did extensive revisions for this edition, and the book does get better as it goes along. Yet though she claims to have added complexity to the characterizations, they still seemed very much to be types to me. Not exactly stereotypical, but predictable enough to keep from really surprising me as a reader. Hopeless migrant worker
Mariano Hortal
Publicado en

“Un jardín de placeres terrenales” de Joyce Carol Oates. La génesis de una gran escritora

Cuando empecé con “Un jardín de placeres terrenales” no me fijé demasiado en el título ni en la portada del libro; para nada, mi referencia era la escritora, Joyce Carol Oates, a quien conocía bastante bien; lo segundo que tenía en cuenta era empezar a conocer desde sus inicios a la norteamericana con todos sus libros incluidos en Mi proyecto literario (qu
Nov 11, 2014 Jeremy rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most mesmerizing imaginative works (novels, poetry, plays, etc.) I've encountered in years. More than any novel I can recall, the prose delivers you directly into the minds of others (three generations of Walpoles, specifically). It is disturbing how subtly Oates can establish not just an identity but a frame of perception, a struggling soul's habits of mind.

That Oates manages this while always avoiding the first person narrative voice, and skipping from a father, to a daughte
Jul 03, 2013 Kristen rated it really liked it
Heavy, prolific and moving. Clara is a character I could relate to and at times could not understand at all. Her life and her character are so defined and altered by the men in her life, which was troublesome, but also makes her more sympathetic - despite her best efforts she has so little control. It's the kind of story you know comes from a very real place because the characters are constantly being disappointed. Clara's struggles, her actions, have a great effect, not just on her, but on the ...more
Apr 19, 2010 Robert rated it really liked it
The first book in Oates's Wonderland quartet and the third of them that I've read (now just need to read Expensive People to finish up); A Garden of Earthly Delights is, like its sister novels them & Wonderland, beautifully and at times harrowingly written. Oates captures the lives of her careworn, desperate, bewildered characters with deep empathy and zero sentimentality or condescension. Her brief author's afterward in this revised and partially rewritten edition is a real bonus: fascinati ...more
Kaye McSpadden
Nov 02, 2009 Kaye McSpadden rated it it was ok
This was Oates' second novel, originally written in 1966 and then significantly revised in 2002. I found the first third of the book, which focused on Clara's childhood in a migrant farmworker family, to be quite compelling. However, I could not quite connect with the latter parts of the story -- I couldn't quite understand Clara's adult character. Neither could I figure out her son, Swan. The 2002 Afterword, in which Oates shares her more mature reflections on this early work and what she attem ...more
Alina Rios
Dec 09, 2007 Alina Rios rated it it was amazing
This is my first ever Joyce Carol Oates book and i am stunned at how talented she is. The subject matter didn't interest me at all. I picked up this book because it was the only one i found used that day at the bookstore and because i've been meaning to read something of hers. I have to say that from the first chapter i was hooked and couldn't put it down. It is very interesting to me, as a writer, how she switches narration, telling it from different characters' point of view. It is even more i ...more
Mar 23, 2016 Michelle rated it it was ok
Based on such high ratings and the fact that I enjoyed another book by this author, I thought this book would be a winner. Instead I found it much too wordy. Character development was choppy and in the end I didn't like a single character in this book. The author began developing the main character, Clara, as a young girl who escaped a harsh life but before long I felt like I didn't know this character at all. Conversations between characters would drone on for pages at a time. I found myself sk ...more
Jul 04, 2010 Bonnie rated it it was ok
An interesting book but I can't say I enjoyed reading it. the first half was better than the last half. the overall story was so depressing. You just felt so bad for these people and their sordid lives. I was a little disappointed with her writing, at times she just goes on and on and is hard to follow. Too wordy, I never thought I would say that about JCO but...... I will take a JCO vacation for awhile.
Midnight Blue
Aug 13, 2012 Midnight Blue rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of Clara Walpole, a beautiful young girl born to migrant farm workers during the depression. It is the story of how she is neglected and raised in poverty, learns to manipulate men, becomes one of the richest women in her town....and then proceeds to raise her bastard son in an entirely different but no less devastating kind of neglect. A very good tale that reflects how the mistakes of a parent can become a vicious cycle that repeats itself.
Shane Malcolm
Aug 15, 2013 Shane Malcolm rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This is one of the best novels I have ever read. Early Oates is distinct in style and epic in scope, portraying an America of a certain time, the seeds of which landscape we continue to sow. This book is harsh, violent, and coarse, but occasionally beautiful, and always stirring. Clara Walpole is one of her most indelible characters. Oates is a true master of fiction; one of the greatest authors in American literary history.
Apr 25, 2009 Sylvia rated it liked it
My first exposure to Joyce Carol Oates and I will be reading more of her work. I found this one hard to get into at first, and later, hard to put down. This is an epic story of a woman's life, from the time she was born in a muddy ditch to her demise as a wealthy woman. I did not find Clara to be a particularly sympathetic character, and we did not get close enough to her. I felt like we were observing her and the family through a window. Still an engaging book and fab writing style.
Jul 01, 2009 Joseph rated it really liked it
This is an illuminating look at the life of a migrant worker, how she gets out of that lifestyle but is still haunted by it.
Apr 20, 2016 Janet rated it really liked it
Ironic title. Just know this.
Jerry Pogan
Jan 04, 2017 Jerry Pogan rated it really liked it
This is the story about Clara, the daughter of down and out migrant crop pickers during the depression and her life as she progressed from those deprived years. It was an excellent read, however, by far the best part of the book was the first 120, or so, pages. This portion of the book focused on her father, Carleton and the writing is nothing short of remarkable, it has to be some of the finest writing Ive had the pleasure to read.
Margaret Yo
Dec 07, 2016 Margaret Yo rated it it was amazing
Shelves: jco
When this novel was selected for a Modern Library edition, the author reread the original and being dissatisfied with it rewrote three quarters of it, in 2002. Originally written in 1965-66. It is the first book of in the Wonderland Quartet. I am curious as to how the original reads. The ML edition contains an afterward by the author which speaks to the writing of the novel. I found it very interesting.
Jun 23, 2016 Laurie rated it it was amazing
While I’ve certainly not read all of Joyce Carol Oates’s work, I’d be willing to say that her work isn’t joyous. And this book takes the lack of joy- the lack to *any* form of happiness- to nose bleeding heights.

Clara is born into misery. Her parents are migrant fruit pickers in the Great Depression. They own nothing and live in shacks on the farms for a few weeks before moving on. They can never make enough to escape this life. Her father copes by drinking, fighting, beating his wife and kids
Aug 08, 2014 Judith rated it really liked it
I have a copy of the original version of this work, but I had not gotten around to reading it when I found this one. Lucky me! I don't know if I would have read the newer version if I had already read the old.

I can only guess at the origin of the title. Clara is the daughter of migrant farmworkers in the eastern part of the U.S. She is familiar with the earth from these beginnings, but it is only when she takes off that she really starts to search for the "delights". A beautiful young woman, sh
Jul 22, 2016 Holly rated it really liked it
An American epic set in rural Eastern and South Eastern America in the 1950s and 60s (?) about a migrant farm worker family's saga.

The book is told in three parts: Carleton (Clara's father), Lowry (Clara's lover), and Swan (Clara's son). Naming the chapters after pivotal men in Clara's life is a statement on what little power women had in this society - they were mothers/wives or old maids, both at the hands of men who had more opportunity, choice, and voice.
-Carleton, though striving for someth
Cathryn Conroy
Mar 21, 2013 Cathryn Conroy rated it it was amazing
"A Garden of Earthly Delights" (1967) is the second book written by Joyce Carol Oates, who is arguably the most prolific modern writer in the world as the author of more than 100 books. When it was selected for publication by Modern Library in 2002, she rewrote it. She didn't change the story or the characters, but changed the way the story was told. Of course, it is excellent. While all her books are dark and somewhat depressing, the writing is exquisite and the characters so fully developed th ...more
Aug 28, 2014 Lynn rated it liked it
I read the original, 1967, version of the novel. The novel presents the stories of three family members: a father, his daughter, and her son. The first two characters, Carleton and Clara, are so ignorant they struggle to think clearly and articulate. Carleton is a father of five who has debt he must pay-off; in the Depression-riddled 1930s his only option is to take his family on the road as migrant farm workers. Their lives are very coarse and bleak. After he beats his beautiful daughter, Clara ...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
First, note the stars. I toyed with only 4 stars, so this must just brush into the best reads. The novel has both plot and characterization, though I think leans more heavily in the direction of characterization. The beginning is much stronger than the rest of the novel. The edition I read is one that Oates reworked from the early publication. I wouldn't have known this without reading the afterword penned by her.

This is her second only novel - of over 40! - and the first to win an award. The R
Aug 06, 2016 Jackdaw rated it it was amazing
Unlike Joyce Carol Oates I know nothing of the life of migrant farm workers from direct experience. And never having visited the United States I'm entirely unfamiliar with the landscapes and society she describes in this novel. Her miraculous talent is to make the world of the Walpole family seem almost more real to me than my own. For all her limitations and shortcomings it's impossible not to love (and admire) Clara and care deeply about her fate. And the same for her poor doomed son Swan/Stev ...more
Oct 02, 2015 Foxy! rated it it was amazing
Carleton, Clara, and Swan - the 3 main protagonists of this book - all leave you with a sense of sadness and missed destinies. Carleton is bound to his destiny, for the better or worse, and though he remained a migrant worker, he missed his chance to be a better father, even to his favorite - Clara. And, Clara, always struggling to escape her past, ultimately missed her chance to remain connected to her family - both her biological family and her acquired one. She is, by far, the most developed ...more
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Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is also the recipient of the 2005 Prix Femina for The Falls. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and she has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. Pseudonyms ... Rosamond Smith and Laure ...more
More about Joyce Carol Oates...

Other Books in the Series

Wonderland Quartet (4 books)
  • Expensive People (Wonderland Quartet, #2)
  • Them (Wonderland Quartet, #3)
  • Wonderland (Wonderland Quartet, #4)

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