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Them (Wonderland Quartet #3)

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  2,572 Ratings  ·  233 Reviews
Winner of the National Book Award and in print for more than thirty years, them ranks as one of the most masterly portraits of postwar America ever written by a novelist. Including several new pages and text substantially revised and updated by the author, this Modern Library edition is the most current and accurate version available of Oates' seminal work.
A novel
Hardcover, 576 pages
Published May 2nd 2000 by Modern Library (first published 1969)
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Jul 30, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a stranger in the World According to Joyce Carol Oates, I established one essential fact in reading them: The woman is indeed a superb writer. From page one, this novel (published when Oates was 31), pulls you in with its confident rhythms, sharp dialogue, and natural storytelling ease. It's the sordid and surreal chronicle of a "white trash" family in Detroit, spanning the years 1937 to 1967. Loretta Wendall is the family's crude, optimistic matriarch; her children Maureen and Jules struggle ...more
Paul Bryant
Sep 28, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
Around page 260, I stopped wanting to find out what happened to this miserable crew. I didn't mind if they all ended up going to Woodstock and scoring bad acid and drowning in one of those photogenic mudbaths. In fact - yay, way to go. It had been something of a struggle to bother about these people to begin with.
The novel is based on the life of the Maureen character.
Maureen was a real person. JCO met her round about 1962, she was a student in JCO's evening class at the University of Detroit.
Sep 20, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: who? huh? was I saying something?
I honestly don't get it.

This is a book in which every character, all the time, is confused. At first, I thought maybe Ms Oates was not quite so sympathetic an observer as she thinks she is and that she may just think that her poor characters are poor because they're dumb. But no! The non-poor characters are just as befuddled. I have no idea how they get through their days. These people are constantly surrounded by a world that mystifies them, and they seem unable to remember things like where th
Andrew Fairweather
Jun 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: yank-lit, fiction

Joyce Carol Oates' 'Them' is a dark yet beautiful piece of work. At times, it reminds me of Flannery O'Connor, or McCullers southern gothic style—'Them', although considered a work of 'realistic fiction', is just slightly insane, like someone chatty Cathy waiting at a lonely bus stop with you at 2am. Its imbalance is betrayed rather in the lines of its face than any suspect reasoning.

This story runs across two generations in a white working class family. 'Them''s characters carry all the
Ron Grunberg
Jan 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
What can you say about JCO? The most prolific great novelist of our times. She's written probably over a hundred books, all illustrating her depth and wisdom as a writer. She's taken modern icons and major headlines, from the life of Marilyn Monroe and Ted Kennedy to the race riots of the sixties, but mainly she's gone behind the scenes of peoples' private lives, to illustrate through literally hundreds of short stories and dozens of novels her breadth and scope of knowledge and attention to the ...more
Aug 05, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It was a relief to reach the end of this based-in-fact novel of Detroit poverty and violence. Them spans two generations of a family who longs for better things, but can't make a more peaceful, healthy, affluent life happen. Oates starts with Loretta as an optimistic teen stuck caring for her alcoholic father and older brother, working at a dry cleaners. She really breaks your heart by getting you to feel her young character's yearning for a better life, then showing how they get sucked into pro ...more
Nov 08, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I thought this book was great... at first. The further in I got, the less I could stand it. It just became more and more dull and predictable. Even the characters seem to grow weary of it, muddling through their adult lives in a total stupor. At about page 245 things took a turn for the worse. Yet somehow I managed to slog through it - until chapter 12. Who wants to read page after page of two boring, half-asleep characters going through mysterious '60s-style sex scenes? What's so interesting ab ...more
Joyce Carol Oates is the Tom Waits of highbrow pulp fiction.

My friend Jonathan Kotulski made the above statement, mostly in jest I think, during a recent phone conversation.

We had been talking about Kafka, Musil, Borges, and David Foster Wallace, then I mentioned that I was still feverishly reading novels and short stories by Joyce Carol Oates, and that I didn't completely understand why. The Tom Waits comparison came from the fact that she has produced a huge catalog, and managed to stay consis
Julie Wilding
May 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
"As soon as she read the first page of a novel... she was pleased, startled, excited to know that this was real, the world of this novel."

"She could draw near to a man and through half-closed eyes assess him, never really looking at him; it was a feeling in her blood."

"There were certain cycles to go through. The cycle had begun when he had opened the door of his car for her, and in a minute or two it would end with his sudden paralyzed tension, his broken breath against her face, the familiar u
Mickey Lindsay
Jan 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of those books that literally changed the way I saw the world, at least for a little while, maybe longer (and I mean literally - I looked at everything differently with my eyeballs, with different care and intent). After I put it down, I had to pick up a friend at the bus depot. We were using the bus because we were poor college students, but our lives were going to be pretty good. I found myself really noticing everyone else around me, and thinking about them, and understanding how specific ...more
May 31, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the 3rd novel in the quartet of the Wonderland Series, and not having read the other books, I was unsure as to whether I would be able to pick this up and "catch on". Never fear...Joyce carol Oates does it right. You can read this book and not have ever even heard of the others and still enjoy it on its own! She takes you back to the 5o's in Detroit and lets you see and feel how it was to be poor and struggling in those days. It's about race, class, family, love, urban life, marriage, wo ...more
Megan Blood
Mar 25, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I made it about 200 pages into this sucker (it's a big book). Her writing is beautiful, which is why I was determined to keep reading. But then I was forced to put the book down for an entire (crazy) weekend, and by Monday I realized that I just didn't care. I had no emotional attachment to any of the characters (who are all incredibly dysfunctional). I just can't see what would possibly be in the next hundreds of pages except more pointless dysfunction and strangely stoic sexual encounters. Not ...more
Jun 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This is probably the best book I've ever read. The book is long (508 pages) and the story is thick. The lives of Loretta, Maureen, and Jules all take unexpected, yet somewhat expected turns throughout their trying lives. It can be depressing at times but there is always hope for redemption, even though it's unclear what, if any, comes. You won't be disappointed with "Them" and I can't wait to read more of her books.
Sep 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: inspiration
A friend gave me this book when I took my first college position at a community College. It's a very insightful book about those we seek to educate.
Nov 21, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: only the most determined of readers
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jakey Gee
Jan 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
[Having recently picked up a predictable, ambulance-chasing fascination with Detroit, post the Mark Binelli Detroit book – me and several million others – I came to this as an important ‘Detroit Novel’]

Superb. Besides its Great American scale and its big bag of gritty themes (female disempowerment, racism, poverty, urban breakdown, violence, the American Dream, etc), here are some exceptionally fine portrayals of seduction, lust and love. The characters are very much alive and real - not so muc
Ann Duddy
I thought it only fair that since I have read a gazillion books in my life time, it would make sense to finally get around to reading Joyce Carol Oates, who has written a gazillion books. So I thought I would start with "Them", which won the National Book Award in the early 70s. (Not to be confused with the movie about giant killer ants of the same name.) Plus, I found this at a local used book store for a dollar and I just couldn't pass up that cover!

Well, let's just say that a)the National Boo
Oh, Joyce Carol Oates, how you confound me. I really, really, really want to like your books because they always sound so interesting, but then I start reading them and have to wonder what it is you're smoking when you write them. Maybe you write for a higher literary plane than the one I inhabit; maybe what you write is your inside joke, laughing as the NY Times and other highly acclaimed book review publications pronounce your latest novel a "breathtaking tour de force from a bona fide literar ...more
Alicia Farmer
The sum was less than the whole of its parts.

I can't put my finger on what I didn't like about this book. I want to say it was boring, but how can a book that includes rape, murder, madness and riots be boring? And while I thought the dialogue was really well written, the characters had nothing to say.

The book felt arbitrary and random. So much so, it really did seem like reportage of one family's lives. This, for any of our lives, without the overlay of storytelling, becomes just a tedious ser
Jun 10, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I'm not really sure what I thought of this book - I didn't quite like it, but it was better than just OK (I'd prefer to give it 2.5 stars). Part of this is probably because I read most of it while I was a little out of it over the weekend, due to my poor (nonexistent?) ability to deal with the humidity & heat down here. I probably owe it a re-read someday.

Anyway, this is the third book in Oates' Wonderland series. This one follows members of the Wendall family -- mom Loretta, daughter Mauree
Parenthetical Grin
Very close to 5 stars for me.

A few favorite passages (among many):

"She drifted down to the library whenever she was free. Growing up and moving away from home was somehow linked in her mind with the library--the library at night, with its silence and openness. Anything might happen. Nothing happened but anything might."

"She stared at these pictures, aware of having failed though she was still young; her failure was tied up somehow with her being unable to sleep. She would not grow up into a nor
May 15, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This overly long book was alternately boring, fascinating, repelling and maddening. Ms. Oates follows the lives of a family -- mother, daughter and son -- living in poverty in urban Detroit in the fifties and sixties. Based, according to her, on actual events, the book chronicles the traumatic lives they led, with what, to me at least, is an excess of imaginative reconstruction of nearly every thought these individuals must have had while the events were transpiring. Or maybe I should say MIGHT ...more
Mike Zickar
I've been trying to work my way through all of the National Book Award Fiction winners and was glad to have a reason to read this novel.

I had a difficult time getting into the book and almost gave up after 30 or so pages, feeling unconnected with any of the characters. But I'm glad that I held on.

The story focuses on a hard-scrabble working poor family in Detroit in the 1960s. There are 3 characters (mother, son, daughter) that are generally the focus of the novel, and the focus changes from cha
Jan 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This s a 3rd of a quartet of novels written by Joyce Carol Oates in the 1960s and are based on issues of racism and poverty in Detroit, Michigan. I have been reading the Modern Library versions of the first 3 novels. The main theme and key question are does being poor necessitate becoming vicious and violent to survive? After reading the book I think an affirmative answer is the only one possible. Joyce Carol Oates lived in this region for many years, moving to Canada after the 1967 riots. The 1 ...more
Jun 01, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Joyce Carol Oates is an author I have come to love. I start to read one of her books and I cannot stop. I fall into her stories, her characters, her narrative. This book is no different. It is an epic tale of a family plagued by murder, death, spousal beatings, child abuse, prostitution and fire. Oh, and a riot. This is not even including the dashed hopes, lowered expectations, poverty and general sanity. The author gives us a lot of inner dialogue, and I wonder, does she think everyone is insan ...more
Them was the first book of Joyce's that I read and oh what a read it was. Her writing style is unique; and, that is an understatement! I read this when I was about 16 or 17 and walked away with psychological nightmares. Then, I picked up Wonderland and again fell under her hypnosis! I put both books down for a long time and was afraid of them. Just looking at them made me quiver. But, at about 25 years old I yearned to recapture her dark prose again and reread both.

I've since lost these two book
Thing Two
I struggled through this the way I struggled through Lolita. Both are stories based on real life. Both are depressing. them is 576 pages long-depressing, and just about wore me out. I'd set my sights on reading all four books in Oates' Wonderland series. I may quit after this one -- book three.
Sep 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the book that made me fall in love with Joyce Carol Oates. This book follows the course of a family through the generations and was the book that helped me realize that I was doomed to a life like my mother's (and my grandmother's) unless I started paying attention! The cycle of life poorly lived is so clearly detailed. The characters are tragic and easily identified just by looking around you in any depressed area. They may even be in your own family. You don't read Joyce Carol Oates if ...more
Jan 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Joyce Carol Oates is not for everyone! Mostly, she writes books about characters you would avoid in life, but can't turn away from when their lives are laid out on the pages. I thought Them really sunk it's teeth into what it means to be human. The characters are like so many people living in the world today. Oates is a great storyteller, even when you may not care for the story she is telling. I have really enjoyed the Wonderland series, even though Them is not my favorite book from it.
I found this book to be very captivating and enjoyed Joyce Carol Oates writing very much. The books describes the turmoil of this time period very vividly and with believable characters. It is not a warm and fuzzy book but one that makes you uncomfortable with the reality of these times. I am definitely going to read some more of her books as I have found this book to be incredibly good.
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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)
  • A Garden of Earthly Delights (Wonderland Quartet, #1)
  • Expensive People (Wonderland Quartet, #2)
  • Wonderland (Wonderland Quartet, #4)