American Appetites gives you something to chew on


Photo Credit: Photo via Angelina Wintonick

The cover of American Appetites.

By: Angelina Wintonick, Fall Reporter

Recently, over fall break, I read American Appetites by Joyce Carol Oates.  It was published in 1989 by Dutton Books, and is considered a classic. I recommend this book strongly, especially to young adults and adults who enjoy a sense of mystery and action.

Joyce Carol Oates has written over 40 other novels since her first book, published in 1963. In addition she wrote a number of plays and novellas as well.  Oates taught at Princeton for over 40 years and won the National Book Award for Fiction for her novel them (1969), two O. Henry Awards and the National Humanities Medal.  Black Water (1992), What I Lived For (1994), Blonde (2000), The Wheel of Love (1970) and Lovely, Dark, Deep: Stories (2014) were all finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.  

All of these novels, plays and short stories contain one big main concept; reality. Oates covers the reality of life; but more specifically the darker side of living.  From death, to sex and affairs, Oates covers temptation and danger in all her stories. An example is American Appetites, which covers a mixture of love, affair, death, mental illness and a tiny sense of suspense, which is all considered Oates’s specific writing style.  The story takes place in New York, which is where Oates’s sets most of her stories. Why? Joyce Carol Oates lived in the city, and knows it inside and out, especially the negative reality there; which is why she can write so easily about it.

American Appetites essentially follows a middle aged man living the American Dream. Ian Mcollough, lives in New York, in a big house with his beautiful wife, and daughter. He works his dream job, in a demographic institute, and Glynnis writes cookbooks, due to her love for food. Him and his wife have many friends and live in their dream house, in their dream town, and host famous dinner parties that are talked about throughout the town. They are happily in love, living the life they have always wished for and worked hard for.

They live the American Dream, until things turn terribly bad for them, when a mysterious woman shakes up Ian’s life. Sigrid Hunt, becomes Ian’s most prized secretive possession and when his wife Glynnis finds out about her, things turn negative, as Glynnis and Ian get into a huge argument, and Glynnis falls out the window, or was she pushed by Ian?

Throughout the story, you follow Ian as he deals with the consequences of his actions.  Between the trial, and the rumors, he also has to deal with grieving his dead wife of 26 years. It is a hard and long journey for Ian, as he begins to get accused for not only murdering his wife, but murdering the woman he has had an affair with, after she has gone missing.

Oates’s writing style is very clear throughout the novel; from the “affair” with Sigrid Hunt, the death of Ian’s mother, father and wife, the recurring hints of mental illness that arise from the book to many different characters we meet, the sex and lust between characters and the suspense and temptation.

American Appetites is a suspenseful thriller, and I truly enjoyed it.  I love the characters; Oates did a wonderful job of really writing a set personality for each character. The only character that was truly dynamic was Ian, which makes sense after everything.  I loved following him throughout the trial, and seeing all the emotions he was facing as he went through challenges.

The plot was also very enjoyable, and at times the way there was a huge plot twist I was not expecting at all. I think the way she is versatile as a writer, and portrays reality in all her novels and characters is really intriguing, since not many authors I have read have done that.  Joyce Carol Oates keeps it real, and makes the story interesting while doing it.  

I really enjoyed this novel, and recommend it to young adults/adults.  You can purchase it in any book store or online on Amazon. Overall, it was very interesting, exciting and suspenseful.  I rate it an eight out of ten, and will be looking to read more of Oates’s stories soon.