A masterly work from a writer with “the uncanny ability to give us a cinemascopic vision of her America” (National Review), A Garden of Earthly Delights is the opening stanza in what would become one of the most powerful and engrossing story arcs in literature.
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 poverty, determined not to repeat her mother’s life, Clara struggles for independence by way of her relationships with four very different men: her father, a family man turned itinerant laborer, smoldering with resentment; the mysterious Lowry, who rescues Clara as a teenager and offers her the possibility of love; Revere, a wealthy landowner who provides Clara with stability; and Swan, Clara’s son, who bears the psychological and spiritual burden of his mother’s ambition.
A Garden of Earthly Delights is the first novel in the Wonderland Quartet. The books that complete this acclaimed series, Expensive People, them, and Wonderland, are also available from the Modern Library.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Joyce Carol Oates’ unforgettable novel captures one woman’s experience in the middle of the 20th century. Born during the Great Depression into a Kentucky family of migrant fruit-and-vegetable pickers, Clara Walpole is singularly focused on escaping her life of mud and degradation. Oates chooses to tell Clara’s story from the points of view of the men in her life, reminding us how women were treated in that time and place. Each male character represents a different phase of Clara’s attempt to climb toward the American Dream, from the father she runs away from to the idealistic Lowry, her teenage infatuation, to her rich and adoring husband, Revere. Oates’ realistic, unsentimental depictions of poverty, ignorance, and pain—not to mention the heartbreaking social barriers that keep Clara and her son, Swan, from outrunning labels like “white trash”—still sting more than 50 years after the book’s initial publication. (Oates greatly revised the book in 2003.) A Garden of Earthly Delights is a penetrating and unputdownable drama about class struggle.