By Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates moves into new territory in the first novel she has written in a contemporary setting since Solstice. American Appetites takes us into affluent, upper-class suburbia in the late American 1980s, where a close-knit group of friends draw closer, and apart, when scandal and tragedy erupt among them.

American Appetites
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: Dutton
Year: 1989
Pages: 340

In this privileged milieu with its confident manners and ambiguous morals, Ian and Glynnis McCullough are a much loved and admired couple. After twenty-six years of marriage they can think of themselves (quite justly) as being at the apogee of the American Dream of Success.

But as Ian nears his fiftieth birthday things neither of them had anticipated begin to happen to the McCulloughs. There are cracks in the marriage even as there are cracks in the American Dream itself. My success is my problem, Ian would say, and his friends would agree with him, for they too were burdened with the same problem—”well off beyond all dreams and expectations . . . yet still ‘ambitious’—though ambitious for what, none could have said.”

The problem is one he cannot bring himself to share with Glynnis, who is so free of doubt, so secure in their marriage, with her proud cry, My House, My Family, My Life! For a time the cracks are patched over; then, in a moment of irreparable violence, shattering the idyllic community where only good things are supposed to happen, the Dream becomes a nightmare.

American Appetites is perhaps the most exciting and provocative novel Joyce Carol Oates has ever written.


Everything is entirely in Nature,
and Nature is entire in everything.
She has her center in every


The center of gravity should be in two people: he and she.


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The noise of breaking glass was deafening, yet it died away at once; as Glynnis’s screaming, so terrible in his ears, died away at once: almost at once.

She was lying on the flagstone terrace beneath the window, one of her legs still caught in the window. Ian stepped through to help her and almost fell on top of her, his ankle suddenly livid with pain—he’d cut it on a jagged fragment of glass still in the window frame. He called her name repeatedly, crouching over her, trying, in nightmare panic, to lift her. There was, suddenly, glass everywhere: in Glynnis’s hair and in Ian’s, in their clothing, on the flagstones. A net of blood began to spread over Glynnis’s face; she did not seem to have lost consciousness yet was incoherent, insensible, writhing and moaning, her eyelids fluttering, her body a dead weight in his arms. Ian knew he must run to the telephone to call an ambulance, to get help for her, but for some seconds, for what seemed a very long time, he squatted there, paralyzed, simply unable to move; unable to lay Glynnis back down on the terrace, amid the shattered glass and the blood, and leave her.

""Manuscript Images

JCO: “Rejected Ending of American Appetites”
Notes for Part 3 of the novel: individual characters and events. Much of it crossed out.
A short typed paragraph, with the written note “End?” next to it. This in fact became the novel’s beginning, rather than its ending.


  • Booklist, October 15, 1988, p345
  • Publisher’s Weekly, November 4, 1988, p70
  • Library Journal, December 1988, p134
  • Chicago Tribune, December 18, 1988
  • New York Times, December 21, 1988, C33
  • New York Times Book Review, January 1, 1989, p5
  • Washington Post Book World, January 8, 1989, p1
  • Time, January 9, 1989, p64
  • Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 15, 1989, p3
  • San Francisco Chronicle Review, January 15, 1989, p1
  • Atlanta Journal Constitution, January 22, 1989, K8
  • Houston Post, January 22, 1989, C6
  • Washington Times, January 23, 1989, D9
  • Denver Post, January 29, 1989, D10
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 29, 1989, D5
  • Time, January 30, 1989, p13
  • USA Today, February 17, 1989, D7
  • Detroit News, March 5, 1989, H2
  • New Yorker, April 3, 1989, p116
    Books, August 1989, p20
  • Observer, August 27, 1989, p38
  • Guardian, September 1, 1989, p29
  • New Statesman & Society, September 1, 1989, p36
  • Times Literary Supplement, September 15, 1989, p997
  • Southern Humanities Review, Spring 1990, p197
  • Massachusetts Review, Spring/Summer 1990, p257

Image: “Room in New York” by Edward Hopper

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