Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates is one of the literary geniuses of our time. She has an uncanny way of capturing people. Wonderland, although it is one of her earlier novels and in a slightly different style than she normally writes, is no exception. It is a gripping tale of Jesse Harte, a seemingly ordinary young boy living in upstate New York in the 1930s. At sixteen, tragedy strikes his family, and Jesse is swept into a maelstrom of life-changing events. The book follows him throughout his life, showing how his circumstances have changed him, particularly in the way he relates to other people.
Oates' books are usually more character-driven than plot-driven, which is why I enjoy her so much. She can build intracacies of character, the nuances that one recognizes in real-life people. All of the characters in the book are recognizable in some fashion. And even though the book occurs from the late 1930s until the 70s (and was, in fact, published in the early 1970s), it doesn't feel dated.
Also, as with her other books, she is gifted in her wordcraft. The repetitions of certain sounds and words gives it a feeling of poetry at times, but not in a contrived fashion.
He was struck by a sense of shyness as he entered the Cadys' apartment building. It was fairly small, four stories high, made of stone that was weathered and stained, covered partly with ivy, with the appearance of an old church. Shadows everywhere in the foyer - a still, moist air that had the quality of secrecy, sternness; an elevator with an elaborate iron grillwork that put Jesse dizzily in mind of a fortress. There was a stern, secretive spirit here and a variety of styles - the curlicues of the grillwork, brass knobs, small heraldic beasts at the molding, nearly lost in shadow and dust, an aged but very respectable wallpaper that showed silvery leaflike designs, absolutely flat, motionless, unlike the turbulent screen of the movie house Jesse had just been in.
The only problem I have with Wonderland is its conclusion. It feels a little like Oates wanted to end the story quickly and chose a kind of clichéd ending. That aside, I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys subtle psychology and the grimness of reality.