WONDERLAND by Joyce Carol Oates


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Was there a universe of broken people, flung out of their orbits but still living. . . ?" Within this universe of egos wounded by connections, by love that sours to possession, Miss Oates further explores the curious event of personality. Jesse, at the age of twelve, lost his past and identity at the moment of his absolute knowledge of violence. This is experienced at the end of a ride home with his father who had killed his wife, other children, and now attempts to kill Jesse before taking his own life. From then on Jesse tries to maintain an equilibrium between doomed attachments and that "terrible purity of this brain that belonged to no one at all." "Always he is riding home, beside his father in that car." And there are other rides away from the proprietors of his indeterminate self -- away from his shrivelled grandfather who could not, like Jesse, obliterate a past; away from the gross "freaks" of his new adopted family, ruled over by the usurping greed of Dr. Pedersen; away from his wife Helene, whose "existence he could not imagine"; away from Reva whom he loved with a "sickening certainty." And father figures "erase" him or die without a linking touch. At the close it is his daughter Shelley who flies from him as he did from Reva, aware of the devastation of love which carries murder within it. "Where were they all going, all those people who abandoned him. . . ?" and with them went the definition of himself. Although there are sections where dialogue and events are mainly expedient expressions of thematic codas, Miss Oates' affective reach and frightening immediacy (the opening sequence is a breath-stopping case in point) will reenforce reader commitment to her feverish wonderland. Not as accessible as Them (1969) but, as always, significant.
Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 1971
ISBN: 081297655X
Page count: 514pp
Publisher: Vanguard
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1971


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