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A Garden of Earthly Delights (Wonderland Quartet #1)

3.78  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,071 Ratings  ·  107 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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We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol OatesBlonde by Joyce Carol OatesThe Falls by Joyce Carol OatesBellefleur by Joyce Carol Oatesthem by Joyce Carol Oates
Best of Joyce Carol Oates
15th out of 107 books — 57 voters
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
Shane Malcolm
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.
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 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.
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
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.
Mar 10, 2012 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
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
Crystal T
Mar 07, 2008 Crystal T rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those with a penchant for the macabre.
Shelves: american-lit
I'm not usually a fan of American Lit, but I embarked upon the Joyce Carol Oates journey with the intention to read the entire Wonderland Quartet. The first novel is a promising start, and I can't wait to read Expensive People, which is in my purse just waiting.

The best part about this novel was the first portion, featuring Carlton Walpole and Clara as a child. It was so vivid, and captured the interior of the characters quite well. The weakest portion of the novel was the clichéd second portion
AmberBug **
Sep 08, 2015 AmberBug ** rated it really liked it
Shelves: sn-to-post
While reading this, I was unsure of where Oates was going with it, normally the books I have read so far have been shocking. This was so far different from what I was expecting and surprisingly I really enjoyed it. The story follows Clara through her desolate poor life while she works herself up to wealthy rich. The changes she goes through during this time are astonishing and I believe to be quite accurate for someone moving up the class system. Oates tells us through this book how unimportant ...more
May 25, 2015 Prewoznik rated it it was amazing
This has been my first of Oates' works. A Garden of Earthly Delights is an unfolding of the American dream in three parts: origins, awkward unstable leaps, and the consequences of upward mobility.
Oates reaches back before the designation every-day rape and domestic abuse. She effectively slips into the narratives of both abuser and survivor without giving it an emphasis that would not have been germane to the period. Every character is full and human, with narratives so distinct that they have
Feb 24, 2009 Michelle rated it really liked it
I am an avid fan of Joyce Carol Oates. A strength of Oates writing is that her characters are exposed to all of the elements of human emotions.

The characters in A Garden of Earthly Delights are no different, as they are faced with issues of gender, social class and expectations.

Unfortunately, Oates begins the novel with a dawdling pace. One might argue that this establishes an appropriate tone for a book about migrant farmers, but it only reminded me of sitting in American Lit watching a tumbl
Jan 11, 2010 Faye rated it it was amazing
I have read many novels by Oates from the last few decades but this is her 2nd novel which was originally published in 1967 and then republished in 2003. The Garden of Earthly Delights is the first of four novels in the Wonderland series. She rewrote the ending of one of the novels when it was republished and so had to confront the writer she was in her youth with the more mature writer she is today. Her writing is graphic, she describes in a lot of detail the life of migrant workers in the U.S. ...more
Joan Colby
Aug 09, 2012 Joan Colby rated it it was amazing
I first read this, the second of Oates’ novels, in the 60’s when it was published. In 2003, Oates rewrote much of the book. I don’t notice a great deal of change apart from the expanded development of the character Clara and the replacement of strong language that had either been excised or was never seriously considered in the original. A Garden of Earthly Delighst remains one of Oates best novels—her short stories generally surpass the longer works. Interestingly, both the main female characte ...more
Feb 09, 2014 Scott rated it it was amazing
I'm not sure what can be said about this book. It is harrowing and emotionally draining. At its heart it is about the downfall of people who live their lives in a delusional state and refuse to acknowlodge who they really are. Not an easy or "fun" read, but vastly rewarding.
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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
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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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