By Joyce Carol Oates

shuddering (1)
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: Vanguard
Year: 1964
Pages: 316

With the publication of BY THE NORTH GATE, Joyce Carol Oates established herself firmly on the literary scene. In WITH SHUDDERING FALL, her first novel, she justifies her acclaim even more dramatically.

Miss Oates tells the story of an obsessive love over which, from the beginning, hovers an atmosphere of inexorable destruction. With raging passion and icy control, the two lovers move together toward a relentless climax, in an elaborate counterpoint that is at once terrifying and explosive.

WITH SHUDDERING FALL proves again that Joyce Carol Oates, still in her twenties, is a natural storyteller of rare perception and power, a truly gifted writer whose work has been linked to that of Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter, Carson McCullers, and of Faulkner himself.

2018 Reprint

shudderingfallThe first novel from New York Times-bestselling author Joyce Carol Oates, a thrilling, dark tale of family, revenge, and two souls intertwined by love and violence—now back in print for fans of America’s most prolific storyteller.

Written when Joyce Carol Oates was in her early twenties, and first published in 1964, With Shuddering Fall is her powerful debut novel, the first of five new Oates reprints from Ecco.

Following the turbulent story of two lovers who discover themselves mortal enemies, the author explores the struggle for dominance in erotic relationships that has become a predominant theme in her work, as well as the perils of patriarchal inheritance, and the ripple-effects of emotional loss in adolescence.  The result is an unsentimental yet sympathetic rendering of a disastrous love affair in which hatred is nearly as powerful as love, and a yearning for destruction is an abiding and insatiable passion.

Discover what prompted the New York Times to compare this young writer’s debut to Shirley Jackson’s famous short story, “The Lottery.”  Readers looking for a place to start in Joyce Carol Oates’s vast catalogue will be intrigued by the sheer narrative force of the young author, and her willingness to anatomize the darkest recesses of humanity in a search for redemption and resolution.


What is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil.


Book Covers



Max sat back. Shar and the driver in the red car were approaching the turn before the other wing of the stadium. Shar eased out to give the car another prod, then he pulled past; he straightened out and began to move away. The crowd showed its disappointment. “Ought to show the bastard! The coward!” a very drunken man behind Karen screamed. Though the spectators seemed to think the fun was past, Jerry said into Karen’s ear, “Watch this. Watch your boy.” Karen stared as if there were something down on the track she ought to be seeing. “Here comes an accident if I ever saw one,” Jerry murmured. “That son of a bitch!” And then it happened, as neatly and as surprisingly as if it were truly an accident—no one could blame Shar for this: at the turn, the silver car, going a little too fast, swerved out and sideswiped the red car, not very seriously. The silver car, shaking for a moment, regained control of itself. The red car seemed all right—everyone screamed, but for what, for whose sake, Karen could not tell—and, as if in answer to the crowd’s secret desire, the car spun suddenly out of control. Out of the invisible ring of pressure it flew, and as Shar and the lead car sped away, the red car traded ends, dust exploded up like a bomb, the volume of the crowd’s delight swelled to bursting.


Mary L. Barrett, Library Journal, November 15, 1964, p. 4562
5 stars
She has now, at the age of 26, achieved an extraordinary first novel, sustained at a strong emotional level, rich, poetic, hard and tender. . . .

Miss Oates’s novel, in three sections (Spring, Summer, Fall), is perfect in form and probably is a small masterpiece.

John Knowles, New York Times Book Review, October 25, 1964, p. 5
4 stars
One of the excellent qualities of this novel by the talented young writer Joyce Carol Oates is an unswerving fidelity to its theme. The theme is violence, beginning with a minor automobile accident, then accelerating swiftly to a nearly mortal fight, an immolation, onward and downward into an even faster and stronger whirlpool of violence, until the entire world of the novel is caught in a paroxysm of hate and destruction. . . .

This material is not as garish as it sounds because of the clarity, grace and intelligence of the writing. The tone has some of the baleful reasonableness amid madness that made Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” so powerful.

Ellen Joseph, Book Week, October 25, 1964, p. 21
4 stars
The enthusiasm that greeted Joyce Carol Oates last year upon the publication of her first volume, a collection of short stories called By the North Gate, clearly was not misplaced.

. . . a young, soul-searching heroine at the center of cataclysmic events is part of a tradition that goes back to Richardson’s Clarissa. And With Shuddering Fall is a traditional novel. . . . The virtues of the work are traditional, too. The prose is clear, unmannered, intelligent, with metaphors acting as signposts, and details always illuminating.

James McConkey, Epoch, Winter 1965, pp. 185-188
3 stars
Miss Oates’ novel is an ambitious one. Though I find it quite imperfect, though I think the violence too shrill and too constant to hold the proper emotional force, though the two main characters are not as convincing as some of the minor ones, I can respect the novel, for Miss Oates has clearly committed herself to it. . . .

Miss Oates has learned a great deal from other writers. She has used some of their tactics and techniques in this novel. But she has not yet been able to surround, to absorb, the writers she admires through the medium of her own style. She has originality, of course, and there is much to delight and please in this novel. That I belabor it to this length is some indication that I care for her work.

Dorrie Pagones, Saturday Review, November 28, 1964, p. 39
3 stars
Miss Oates is often both esoteric and violent, adjectives seldom ascribed to women writers, and her imagination seems to have no limits.

Stanley Kauffmann, New York Review of Books, December 17, 1964, p. 22
2 stars
Possibly Miss Oates’s natural medium is the story, not the novel; perhaps, like Chekov, she thinks the novel is a beefed-up story. Whether this is so or not, those who admired her and whose expectation is only partially dinted can hope that she will consider the fate that overtakes many American women writers. After initial strength, impulse, genuine lyricism, they become precious, fussy prose-preeners. When the careers of American men writers falter, it is often because of a failure in material, a disconnection from a bloodstream (sometimes caused by success). With American women writers, it is usually a choking of the garden with too many pretty little flowers.

Katherine Gauss Jackson, Harpers, November 1964, p. 151
2 stars
The episodes are often individually impressive but they lack the single point of view, the careful sense of order in confusion needed to lend conviction to the whole.

Image by Dave Friedman


  1. Very excited to see that “With Shuddering Fall” will be back in print next year. It’s the first of five new JCO reprints from Ecco? Anyone know what the other four will be?


    • Haven’t heard yet. Might be early works that are out of print: Do With Me What You Will; The Assassins; Childwold; Son of the Morning. That would still leave several out of print novels — Cybele; Unholy Loves; Broke Heart Blues; Angel of Light; and one out of print masterpiece: What I Lived For.


  2. AS Mary L. Barrett wrote in Library Journal, November 15, 1964,“With Shuddering Fall”
    is composed with three sections (Spring, Summer, Fall), and I kept thinking the Fall means Autumn. but my friend insists the Fall means tumble down. Tell me which is true?


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