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A Garden of Earthly Delights

(Wonderland Quartet #1)

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  1,951 ratings  ·  199 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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JD I think you have to read it in order to follow the story arc.

I don't know why people keep asking this question. Why is this such an issue? Just read t…more
I think you have to read it in order to follow the story arc.

I don't know why people keep asking this question. Why is this such an issue? Just read the series in order.(less)

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Larry Bassett
Feb 27, 2012 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 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
Jul 04, 2010 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. ...more
Mar 31, 2011 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
Jun 16, 2009 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
Rocío G.
Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I think this is my favourite novel I've read this year, especially the first half. Oates' prose is remarkable in painting an expansive yet particular picture of mid-century rural America. She brings the Walpoles to life with astonishing force and clarity.

The novel ostentively centers around Clara Walpole in particular, as each section is named after pivotal men in her life: Carleton, her father, Lowry, her rescuer and would-be lover, and Swan, her son. I liked Carleton's chapters in particular:
Apr 26, 2009 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
May 22, 2012 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
Jun 17, 2013 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 10, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was my first Joyce Carol Oates novel and it's a difficult read beginning with the lives of "white trash" migrant farmworkers in the United States. Teenager Clara somehow escapes this depressing life and finds herself torn between her unreliable saviour Lowry and lover Curt Revere. Her son Swan cuts a tragic figure. Protagonist Clara is a strong yet almost unlikeable character in a novel that takes a harsh look at the difference between the social classes. I would have given it more stars an ...more
William Baker
Feb 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful story of losing one's soul, in an atheist's narration. I'm looking forward to reading the other volumes of the quadrilogy. ...more
Mar 14, 2013 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
Nov 02, 2014 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
Kaye McSpadden
Oct 13, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-fiction
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
Mar 13, 2016 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
Eric Cepela
well written, drawn out fodder. ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels but the pleasure doesn’t feel so guilty. big fan of lila and clara. “i can pick fuckin lettuce—“

oates using the same stuff in the sixties as her nineties novels. suicide, coming of age, incest, alcoholism, new york, economic disparity. harsh characters in rough settings. works for me.

she’s gotten better at it. You Must Remember This is of no more significance, but stays stronger throughout its too many pages. A Garden of Earthly Delig
Jerry Pogan
Jan 04, 2017 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.
Elise Barker
May 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I can't believe I'm already done with this. It was a hard read, emotionally, but also quick because it is so engaging. I might need to get some distance to give a real review because I'm still reeling from it. I am feeling under the weather and was closing my eyes earlier and just started crying because I couldn't stop thinking about it. It isn't despairing or a feeling of victimhood but this book is undeniably about deep loss. I hope to edit this review later when I'm feeling less raw. ...more
Aug 28, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
I found this book from an article in which famous authors named their favorite books. I can't remember who recommended this, and she's lucky because I would probably quit reading her books in protest.

I faithfully read every word of the relentlessly depressing first third of the book, and kept thinking it was like someone decided the Ewells were the best part of "To Kill a Mockingbird," and they needed their own spinoff. Trust me, they don't. The first third of the book takes us into the filth of
Aug 07, 2014 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
Stacy Bauman
May 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
It has been awhile since I have read Joyce Carol Oates she us a wonderful storyteller. I found myself immersed in the characters and their unfortunate desires. Dumbfounded by the idea that Oates took the time to re-edit 3/4 of this book which by doing so, she states in the afterword to have discovered was somewhat autobiographical. Apparently this new edition is slightly longer and it was her intention to allow the reader to become more intimate with the characters. A job well done and another s ...more
Camila Cares
Aug 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
i want to thank Lisa Simpson for introducing me to the works of this wonderful writer :) way better than Steel!
Feb 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a book difficult to evaluate. As I read it, I was constantly shifting from 4 to 3 stars, and back to 4 again, and at times felting like just giving up. Probably the feeling was shared by the author herself, that in the 2009 re-edition of the book felt compelled to rewrite at least ¾ of the original from 1967. I read and comment on the latest version, which I think is still far from accomplished or perfected. I’m not sure it fully classifies to be one of those great imperfect masterpiece ...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 18, 2018 rated it liked it
I found disturbing the many characters whose feelings were that they “hated” someone or something. The word was used sometimes so prolifically that it began to grate on me. In my experience, I have heard the words “hate” and “hatred” used seldom in conversation regarding ANYTHING, much less as describing the dominate feelings about persons. So many of the characters also had violent tendencies, with threats of wanting to “kill” someone, and regular conversations contained profanity, no matter wh ...more
P. E. Rempel
Jul 13, 2018 rated it liked it
SPOILER ALERT: Another disappointment, after having recently finished "Them." I only read this novel to about the halfway point. The writing itself is solid, enjoyable, wonderful, however the story is a little thin and, after a long series of awakenings and obstacles overcome, tedious and flat. It's really nothing more than a very clichéd tale of romance: young girl runs away from grinding poverty, then falls in love with a mysterious, handsome "drifter," then has a baby, then ends up taken care ...more
Martha Alami
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
I am a big fan of Joyce Carol Oates and somehow missed this quartet of books, written in the 1960s. I am so glad I found this one and am looking forward to reading the other three! Oates has such a deep ability to describe and write about characters and in this novel she does not disappoint. Clara is one of the most enigmatic characters I think Oates has ever created. Her background and life as the daughter of a sharecropper, her life as a mistress and the wife of Revere, and most of all her rel ...more
Jan 05, 2010 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: fascinating t ...more
Alina Rios
Nov 21, 2007 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
Jun 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
I didn't like it at first. It got much better as I was listening to Nancy Isenberg's book White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America. That gave this book way more context. I am still surprised that so much history on class and race in America has been lost so quickly. This book was originally published in 1967. In only 50 years an understanding of class and race, especially whiteness, have changed so much of what is going on in this book is not understandable without additional ...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

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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