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them by Joyce Carol Oates
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The first (and my very all-time favorite) of many of her books that I've read, in the 80s no less...even had her sign my old, torn, used-up copy at a Book Fair, in Vermont!...her characters live and breathe, she inhabits their very souls...truly a masterful storyteller...G. ( )
  Gemma. | Apr 26, 2013 |
I finished this novel yesterday. I have always been curious about Oates, who looks so characteristically novelistic in her promotional photos, and who is so very productive. I bought this leather bound edition of one of her first novels, and I always feel obligated to read my purchases. I sped through much of the book; I am interested in the story and characters, and want to see what happens, but I get tired of endless descriptions of the character's floating, dreamlike emotional states. I wish someone would have been rational and less random and emotionally driven. Jules is a bum and a murderer, but always dreamy and uncertain. Maureen has some plans, but is seductively evil, and Loretta is hopelessly irritating. I hung on for the 590 pages of this edition, but found the riot description at the end to be an afterthought, without much to do with the characters, other than to locate them in time and space. I think the prose is excellent, and would read Oates again. ( )
  neurodrew | Apr 15, 2013 |
Excellent very layered and nuanced book. Reminds me of the Studs Lonnigan triology, except set in Detroit. So far, I am an ardent fan of this quartet and this is a worthwhile and equal addition; however, don't know that it stands out as the singular "best" of the quartet. Most inline with Garden of Earthly Delights. ( )
  RDHawk6886 | Jun 11, 2012 |
Set in the slums of Detroit in the decades of the 1930s through 1960s, Them follows the lives of three (white) family members: Loretta and her two children, Jules and Maureen. It’s an embarrassingly riveting story, a survival tale of relentless poverty and violence. I was mesmerized and flew through most of the novel’s nearly 500 pages.

JCO calls this novel history as fiction (a slight paraphrase). Maureen, the daughter in the story, was a student in one of the night classes JCO taught while at the University of Detroit. Some years later, Maureen wrote to her and, as they became acquainted, Maureen began to tell her own story. JCO says she was riveted by it, conscious that she was to bear witness of it. Maureen’s (not her real name, of course) actual remarks/recollections have been used verbatim wherever possible, and nothing has been exaggerated for dramatic effect. All this JCO notes in the preface.

And here is where I might add some synopsis but I think it’s best to leave that for you to discover. Suffice it to say that the three are survivors; and that, in and of itself, is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

While the book is about a specific, and very real “them,” one could also say that the story also speaks of a more general “other” — “them”, whomever they may be. For Loretta it seems to be anyone outside her small circle of family and friends. For us, the reader, it is this specific family as representative of the people in our culture we don’t see, the people who have no voice in our society. It’s a powerful story, we cannot help be carried along with it.

There was a section towards the end of the book that I found less enthralling, but otherwise the book captures one’s attention completely, right up through it’s climax—the awful 1967 Detroit riots. ( )
  avaland | Mar 19, 2012 |
On change:
"Jules laughed. “There isn’t going to be any riot,” he said. They were standing in front of an antique store, a junk store, and the quiet dusty furniture behind the dusty window showed how correct his words were. How could anything happen on this earth? How could anything begin to move. Everything was stationary, weighed down."

On the common thread of humanity through time:
“In here I been reading some books they pass around and looking through the Bible which as you know I never bothered with much, and don’t care much about now, but there are some interesting things in them. My main discovery is that people have always been the same, lonely and worried and hoping for things, and that they have written their thoughts down and when we read them we are the same age as they are, it’s like time hasn’t really gone by. ... Being in pain and hurt pretty bad I had a lot of time to think it through and I am certain that there is a Spirit of the Lord in us all, makes us able to talk to one another and love one another.”

On love:
"For love, being a delirium and a pathological condition, makes of the lover a crazed man; his blood leaps with bacteria that shoot the temperature up toward death. The real Jules, a cunning boy with a sweet look about him, was drenched and overcome by the sweat of the crazed Jules, a Jules in love."

On love unrequited:
"He telephoned Faye and listened, trembling with anticipation, to the subtly mocking sound of the ringing, ringing in an empty room."

On meaninglessness:
"You can’t see what has happened day by day, reading the newspapers, you must look at them for a whole year. Then everything comes rushing at you. You see how the year was a waste. Faster and faster the headlines come, one day has nothing to do with the next, suddenly someone has been killed or a nation is on the front page, the photographs change of people lying in the streets, the names change, everything goes up and down jiggling the eye. In the library I started sweating, so afraid. How can I live if the world is like this? The world can’t be lived, no one can live it right. It is out of control, crazy."

On self-knowledge:
"There was a forlorn sensation in her, rising often, out of melancholy and weary joy, that everyone who was born must be a person – one person only – and that this personal, private, nameless kernel of the self could neither be broken down nor escaped from; so she smiled vaguely back at Mama Wendall’s evil smile, thinking, Well, I’m young enough, I can take it..."

On transience (or love diminished):
"It was queer how you felt, instinctively, that a certain space of time was real and not a dream, and you gave your life to it, all your energy and faith, believing it to be real. But how could you tell what would last and what wouldn’t? How could you get hold of something that wouldn’t end? Marriages ended. Love ended. Money could be stolen, found out and taken....Nothing lasted for long."

And many on women and men which I love about this book:
"It seemed to Loretta, half listening, that all the girls she knew, all the women, had rivers of words to deliver into her, and she too felt buoyed up by a great pressure of words, language, talk, excited gestures, like a gigantic heartbeat somehow drawing them all closer together – all the women; the men were forever silent."

"Howard shifted in his chair. He had a bearish, rumpled look, yet there was something strangely tender about him. In this defeat the very hairs of his sizable wrists and hands looked gentler; Loretta felt a jolting in her blood, wanting to comfort him. Her father, during his quiet, bad times, sitting like this at the kitchen table, had looked tender too. It was the only time men looked tender – in defeat."

"She was silent for a while, contemplating him. Women contemplated and judged, he had discovered; men did the hitting, but without thinking about it. Their blows were senseless, had to be avoided, that was all. But women were always thinking, sifting, judging, preparing."

"He came to her and they passed into another part of the cycle, now that they had stopped talking, and Maureen felt the flesh of his back dutifully as if only now was she beginning to recognize him. But this too was familiar. She had memorized all the parts of the cycle, the route the machinery took to its inevitable end; she wanted to hurry it along. ... A man was like a machine: one of those machines at the laundromat where she dragged the laundry. There were certain cycles to go through. The cycle had begun when he had opened the door of his car for her, and in a minute or two it would end with his sudden paralyzed tension, his broken breath against her face, the familiar urgent signs of a man’s love. For he spoke of love, groaning against her, “Jesus Christ, but I love you...I’m crazy about you...”

"Maureen stared at his thick, smooth flesh beneath her fingers and understood why he was silent. Her father too had been silent. There was too much flesh to men, too much weight to force words through."

"Oh, we women know things you don’t know, you teachers, you readers and writers of books, we are the ones who wait around libraries when it’s time to leave, or sit drinking coffee alone in the kitchen; we make crazy plans for marriage but have no man, we dream of stealing men, we are the ones who look slowly around when we get off a bus and can’t even find what we are looking for, can’t quite remember how we got there, we are always wondering what will come next, what terrible thing will come next. We are the ones who leaf through magazines with colored pictures and spend long heavy hours sunk in our bodies, thinking, remembering, dreaming, waiting for something to come to us and give a shape to so much pain."

“I’m thinking this,” she said wearily. “A woman is like a dream. Her life is a dream of waiting. I mean, she lives in a dream, waiting for a man. There’s no way out of this, insulting as it is, no woman can escape it. Her life is waiting for a man. That’s all. There is a certain door in this dream, and she has to walk through it. She has no choice. Sooner or later she has to open that door and walk through it and come to a certain man, one certain man. She has no choice about it. She can marry anyone but she has no choice about this. That’s what I’m thinking.” ( )
  gbill | Apr 27, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
She focuses on story, with a style that cajoles the reader by regularly switching viewpoints within single paragraphs. The art is almost invisible. Her style allows the reader to focus on story without the intrusion of unfamiliar language, so artfully done, an exercise in event, an adventure in domestic darkness.
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...because we are poor Shall we be vicious? -- The White Devil -- John Webster
For my husband, Raymond
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One warm evening in August 1937 a girl in love stood before a mirror.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345484401, Paperback)

Joyce Carol Oates’s Wonderland Quartet comprises four remarkable novels that explore social class in America and the inner lives of young Americans. As powerful and relevant today as it on its initial publication, them chronicles the tumultuous lives of a family living on the edge of ruin in the Detroit slums, from the 1930s to the 1967 race riots. Praised by The Nation for her “potent, life-gripping imagination,” Oates traces the aspirations and struggles of Loretta Wendall, a dreamy young mother who is filled with regret by the age of sixteen, and the subsequent destinies of her children, Maureen and Jules, who must fight to survive in a world of violence and danger.

Winner of the National Book Award, them is an enthralling novel about love, class, race, and the inhumanity of urban life. It is, raves The New York Times, “a superbly accomplished vision.”

Them is the third novel in the Wonderland Quartet. The books that complete this acclaimed series, A Garden of Earthly Delights, Expensive People, and Wonderland, are also available from the Modern Library.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:37 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"A novel about class, race, and the horrific, glassy sparkle of urban life, them chronicles the lives of the Wendalls, a family on the steep edge of poverty in the windy, riotous Detroit slums. Loretta, beautiful and dreamy and full of regret by age sixteen, and her two children, Maureen and Jules, make up Oates' vision of the American fam-ily--broken, marginal, and romantically proud. The novel's title, pointedly uncapitalized, refers to those Americans who inhabit the outskirts of society--men and women, mothers and children--whose lives many authors in the 1960s had left unexamined. Alfred Kazin called her subject "the sheer rich chaos of American life." The Nation wrote, "When Miss Oates' potent, life-gripping imagination and her skill at narrative are conjoined, as they are preeminently in them, she is a prodigious writer." -- publisher discription (September 2006).… (more)

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