Wonderland by Joyce Carol Oates book review

Wonderland is one of Joyce Carol Oates’ most famous pieces of writing. This book follows the life of Jessie Vogel. It takes place in the mid 1900’s, but spans a pretty decent amount of time because it follows the main character’s entire life.

The Main character is Jessie.  It starts with his tragic childhood in the great depression, with a father who murders the rest of his family and then himself, leaving only Jessie alive.  It moves on to his adoption by a very successful scientist who psychologically manipulates Jessie and the rest of his family.  It follows his career and adult life, including him trying to get his daughter back into the life he wants for her, as she is mostly lost in the drug addled subculture of the 1960’s.

The author, Joyce Carol Oates, writes in an afterword that this book was “the most bizarre and obsessive” and “the most painful to write”. The ending was rewritten in 1972, and she has continued to write about things that are also at least partially about the life of Jessie Vogel or other characters in the story. Ontological Proof of My Existence is a play that Oates wrote more about Jessie’s experiences in Toronto, Canada.

I personally did enjoy this book, but I wouldn’t recommend it to many people because the book doesn’t have much levity or humor. It simply jumps from one tragic event to the next, potentially making it hard to read. Jessie is also often described as disconcerting because of his lack of personality.

The overall story is compelling, and if you’re okay with having to go through tough parts or parts that might drag on a bit, the author’s style is very good. She is able to convey a very interesting idea about the cycle of overbearing parent hood and the manipulation of a person’s psyche. If you’re the type of person who only enjoys fiction, or prefers to read about magic or fantasy, you probably won’t enjoy this novel very much.

Overall, while this book might only suit a very particular audience, but is a very interesting read.

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