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A Garden of Earthly Delights



Book Review for A Garden of Earthly Delights


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 prose is very often thick and her descriptions are both accurate and horrible. When a character in an Oates novel or short story feels pain or discomfort, so dose the reader. She writes with a style that is meant to be sipped, to be taken in slowly and savored.

There is substance and heaviness behind her prose… and I, for one, am a fan.

A Garden of Earthly Delights tells the story of Clara who is born into a family of migrant farmers and moves up the ladder of society. She uses her wits, she uses her body, she uses every tool at her disposal… and she is at once heartbreakingly sympathetic and woefully unlikable. It is a combination that mirrors the society and people who make up her context; a backdrop of the American people themselves.

“I guess I like it.” Clara said shyly.
“Look at the others”
The old man pulled out another tray. Clara’s heart beat in confusion and alarm at everything she had to see, touch, think about. Her first instinct was to take the first thing and have done with all this awkwardness, all this pain…. The stones sparkled at her and their settings were intricate and beautiful, gifts from another world that she had no right to and she was stealing from, those that really deserved them – not girls like herself but women who were really married, who were not choked with shame in a doctor’s office…. There was an ugly roaring in her ears. She would ne able to wear on one finger something worth more money than her father had ever had at once, … and it was all coming about with no one showing any surprise except herself.


Clara is every awkward girl, every manipulating woman, every proud and defiant mother, every lovesick teenager, every migrant worker, and every socialite with fading beauty. She epitomizes one who attains the “American dream” but is never really fulfilled.

I read a tagline for a movie not that long ago… I didn’t really “get” it at first and I don’t really think it fit the move, but I do think it fits Clara and Oate’s award winning novel.

They dream without faith.

I highly recommend this book. If I were a English teacher, I would assign this book. As it is, I am looking forward to reading the next Oates book in her Wonderland Quartet; Expensive People. I will of course let you all know what I thought of it once I do.

In the meantime, if you are so inclined to read A Garden of Earthly Delights, feel free to click the link blow and buy your very own copy.

2 comments:

Charity Childs-Gevero said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

maryt/theteach said...

I've done a couple of Oates' books in class and the ladies loved them. I own this book and was thinking about doing it. Thanks, Kay for the review it helps me decide. A protagonist, Clara, who is "sympathetic and highly unlikable." Only Oates could accomplish this! :)