by Joyce Carol Oates

Hardcover, 1969





New York, Vanguard Press [1969]


The members of the Wendall family struggle for thirty years to understand the obscure forces constantly tearing at their lives and happiness.

Media reviews

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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member phillyexpat
Them is one of Joyce Carol Oates' earlier novels, for which she won the National Book Award. It chronicles two generations of a Detroit family from the Depression to the riots in the 1960's. The beginning was extremely well written and engaging, but after the first few chapters, the book did not consistently hold my attention. There were flashes of great writing, but, overall, I felt like there was a wall between the characters and I. I found myself, more often than not, saying "So what?" I recommend Because It Is Bitter, And Because It Is My Heart instead.… (more)
LibraryThing member lindawwilson
Overall I enjoyed the book and there were flashes of brilliance in the writing. But the story got bogged down with a lot of nonsense especially at the end with the riots and the crazy thoughts in the characters' minds were too crazy and tiresome after awhile. There was too much "stream of consciousness" type of writing that I do not like. It was painful to read.… (more)
LibraryThing member shanjan
Joyce Carol Oates' novel Them, the third novel in the Wonderland quartet is a gritty examination of Detroit as it transformed from prosperous "Motor City" to a burned out post-apocalyptic city in the aftermath of the race riots.

Oates takes the reader on this journey through the eyes of the Wendall family. The story is primarily told from the point of view of Loretta, Jules and Maureen Wendall beginning with Loretta finding her first lover shot in her bed by her brother, fleeing the scene and finding her first husband in a period of hours.

Oates examination of the life of these characters struggling to escape poverty is raw and painful. As the title implies there is a distinct division between "us" and "them", and each character struggles to leave their caste and join another often climbing over one another in the process.

"Them" echos Tolstoy's Anna Karenina in that Oates examines Detroit in all of its intricacies in relationship to the lives of her characters much in the same way Tolstoy examines St. Petersburg Russia. In fact one could even draw some similarities between some of the characters. Loretta Wendall is a modern albeit much poorer foil for Anna. Both women are similarly confined by their position in society and their gender. Maureen could be seen as a parallel for Kitty in some ways as well.

Them is not an enjoyable book to read, but it is an interesting book to read. It doesn't lift the reader with poetic language or refresh the reader's spirit by examining the humanity that lies within all of us. In fact, it does quite the opposite, but that is Oates' intention. Oates' language is direct and she examines with brutal honesty the baseness of human nature.

This book is a very worthwhile read if you are a lover of literature, a fan of Oates or just the kind of person who likes to lift the rug up an peek at the harsh underpinnings of human interaction. Not for the feint of heart!
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LibraryThing member siubhank
"Them" is the saga of a dysfunctional lower-class family from 1937 to about 1966. A laundry list of domestic turmoil--rape, murder, assault, and accidental death--devastates the Wendall family as they travel throughout the poor neighborhoods of Detroit, chasing solvency and dignity in vain. The story focuses on the oldest daughter, Maureen who is bright enough and behaves well; she likes to read and makes the public library her sanctuary, where in the permanence of the words of Jane Austen novels she finds a comforting reality lacking in the instability of her home life. Her brother Jules is intelligent and so very intricate you wonder what he is about to do next with that brain that never stops ticking.
This novel culminates with various kinds of violence in a race riot, against the backdrop of which the ideological diatribes, advocating large-scale social changes for the nation, seem distant from the private concerns of the Wendall family. But the Wendalls' privacy is impacted and influenced by the public force of human presence, the people we don't necessarily know: "them." Much of the novel is uncomfortable to read, not so much with regard to the physical violence as when the characters use abusive language to hurt each other, but it resonates with power and realism.
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LibraryThing member neurodrew
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member RDHawk6886
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.
LibraryThing member charlie68
Bit of a depressing read. Murder, prostitution, child abuse and continuing decline of an American family. Detroit doesn't fare to well either. Writing is excellent at times though.
LibraryThing member JosephKing6602
I started reading this book on a couple of prior occasions. Now, I've read it through; and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Oates really creates in-depth characters. The reader begins to really care about what happens. Very good book!
LibraryThing member amerynth
Joyce Carol Oates' "them" is a really engrossing novel, with so many layers that I think I would get even more out of it if I read it a second time.

The novel is set mainly in the slums of Detroit, following three members of the Wendall family -- Loretta and two of her children, Jules and Maureen from the 1930's to the 1960's. They live a rather downtrodden and poverty stricken life, and it's interesting to see where the years take them.

Oates' look the family was all the more interesting given her author's note indicating this story was based on people she knew.... (which she later says was just a literary device.) I liked the "us" vs. "them" set up, and how the title applies in so many ways -- to women, to the poor, to the Wendall family. Overall, this is a great book.
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