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A Garden of Earthly Delights by Joyce Carol Oates is a novel about a woman, Clara Walpole, and the three main men in her life, as well as her son. Like the painting by Hieronymus Bosch after which it is named, it is a triptych, with each section focusing on Clara in the context of one of her relationships. The two most important men in her emotional life other than her son are her father Carleton and her lover Lowry.
The first difference between Carleton and Lowry is that Carleton stays with his family but Lowry is essentially a loner. While both men feel that they have potential beyond what they can achieve in their current lives, Lowry sees family bonds as a trap and remains a loner, while Carleton struggles in a family situation in which the relationships are often laced with abuse and alcoholism.
Both men have some trouble with staying on the right side of the law, with Carleton exploding with rage and killing his best friend, and Lowry involved in quasi-legal business activities, but Carleton is more impulsive and Lowry more reflective.
Finally, while Carleton is rough and abusive, often using harsh, crude language, Lowry can be charming, seductive, and gracious.
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