Sunday, August 4, 2013

Book Review - Wonderland by Joyce Carol Oates

When I grow up, I want to be just like Joyce Carol Oates. 

Although I have only read a handful of her books, they linger within me for quite a long period of time after reading the last page. She writes with such a splendid mixture of the Gothic, literary, mystery and something extra that makes her books stand out quite well from other works. I simply adore Joyce Carol Oates.

Wonderland, one of the novels in the Wonderland "Quartet", is a novel that is simply AMAZING. When I finished reading it yesterday, I walked around my apartment in a daze at what I had read. I actually asked myself if I had experienced what I had just read and my answer was yes (I do talk to myself and answer - it's called being a writer, folks!)

Wonderland tells the story of Jesse Harte, a 14 year old boy who, during the course of the 500+ page novel, overcomes many obstacles and takes on many names. Yet, who is Jesse Harte? For that matter, who is Jesse Vogel and Jesse Pederson? Although they are all the name person, from awkward teenager to restrained college student and medical student to frustrated and apathetic physician, the person Jesse is actually a blank canvas that the world around him fills in. And he allows it. 

Oates draws the reader in with her style of words and Wonderland was certainly a page turner for me. What choices would Jesse make and why? Would there be any sort of redemption or perhaps a continuation of the lingering curse that seemed to have been with him ever since he escaped his father's murderous rampage of his family at age 14?  And, in being an blank canvas filled in by the world around him, was he rather just an observer to the world, a kind of Homer to record internally what he experienced and in turn, translated it to his own disjointed and dysfunctional life? I found myself asking these questions and many, many more once I read the last page several times. The last page, of which I am going to spoil, is the confrontation of Dr. Jesse Vogel and his younger daughter, Michelle, after he tracks her down in a seedy apartment building in Canada after having run away from home. She is a product of the 60s drug culture, a broken soul apparently "freed" by her drug pushing lover, Noel, and her father has come to take her home. Again. She thinks, thanks to Noel, that her father was inside of her like the Devil and that she had to have him exorcised from her being. All Jesse can do at that point is say, "Am I?" Wow. A middle aged physician living in the 1970s, witnesses what his daughter has gone through and will probably go through again, yet all he can do is ask, "Am I?" In my opinion, that is quite a Homer-esque response. He will fight to a point yet the notes will still be taken. The canvas still has room for more of the world, no matter how terrible it may be in its truth.

Read this novel and go on the journey with Jesse as he searches for "Wonderland" and instead finds something . . . .else.

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