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Mudwoman: A Novel Hardcover – March 20, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“[A] powerful novel…[Oates] deftly interweaves M.R.’s present, memories of her troubled childhood, and her feverish hallucinations…This hypnotic novel suggests that forgetting the past may be the heavy cost that success demands.” (The New Yorker)

“Uniquely personal… an intriguing departure from token Oates tales.” (Huffington Post)

“Madness and malevolence squirm on almost every page in Joyce Carol Oates’ 38th novel… Oates’ dark brilliance is ever evident in her main characters, complex souls with mysterious corners in their psyches…” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“This chilling novel opens with a child left to die in a silty riverbed, a memory that no amount of later life success can erase.” (O, the Oprah Magazine)

“…The Oates style, with its fractious barrage of dashes, suggests what [Emily] Dickenson might have produced if she had written doorstop novels instead of short poems…[Oates] is especially perceptive in showing the political tightrope that M.R. has to walk in her powerful but fragile position at the university…” (Wall Street Journal)

“[A] disturbing, psychological thriller.” (New York Post)

“Extraordinarily intense, racking, and resonant... Masterfully enmeshing nightmare with reality, Oates has created a resolute, incisive, and galvanizing drama about our deep connection to place, the persistence of the past, and the battles of a resilient soul under siege… A major, controversy-ready novel from high-profile, protean Oates.” (Booklist (starred review))

“Oates [displays] the insights into human bonds that make her brilliant....Oates makes [her character’s] torment come alive. We grasp her compulsion to return to the mud of the past in order find her true self.” (USA Today)

“[A] disturbing exploration of selfhood…As always, Joyce Carol Oates masterfully evokes a sense of menace, if not malevolence, while drawing her readers deep into the psychology of her characters… a dark, intelligent and deeply compelling novel... which will hold you in its thrall until the end.” (Washington Independent Review of Books)

“There’s a freshness to this novel, a sense of some new, more personal beginning. It’s bold... to paint achievement... as just the flip side of victimization--and it’s perhaps even bolder to make such visceral drama from the story of a workaholic who finally confronts life unhooked from a keyboard.” (New York Times Book Review)

“Oates is an extremely visceral writer…Mudwoman is a genuinely unsettling book in which Oates pays her readers the compliment of never letting them settle or even being entirely sure about what they have just read.” (Financial Times)

“Mudwoman is very good at the performance of the public life of the woman president…The unraveling of this performance is grippingly horrible.” (New York Review of Books)

“Joyce Carol Oates’ latest novel is about many things, but first and foremost it is about the complications of being a high-achieving woman in the 21st century…Oates tells [her protagonist’s story] with a detail and relish that’s both heartbreaking and fascinating.” (Ms. magazine)

From the Back Cover

A riveting novel that explores the high price of success in the life of one woman—the first female president of a lauded ivy league institution—and her hold upon her self-identity in the face of personal and professional demons, from Joyce Carol Oates, author of the New York Times bestseller A Widow’s Story

Mudgirl is a child abandoned by her mother in the silty flats of the Black Snake River. Cast aside, Mudgirl survives by an accident of fate—or destiny. After her rescue, the well-meaning couple who adopt Mudgirl quarantine her poisonous history behind the barrier of their middle-class values, seemingly sealing it off forever. But the bulwark of the present proves surprisingly vulnerable to the agents of the past.

Meredith “M.R.” Neukirchen is the first woman president of an Ivy League university. Her commitment to her career and moral fervor for her role are all-consuming. Involved with a secret lover whose feelings for her are teasingly undefined, and concerned with the intensifying crisis of the American political climate as the United States edges toward war with Iraq, M.R. is confronted with challenges to her leadership that test her in ways she could not have anticipated. The fierce idealism and intelligence that delivered her from a more conventional life in her upstate New York hometown now threaten to undo her.

A reckless trip upstate thrusts M.R. Neukirchen into an unexpected psychic collision with Mudgirl and the life M.R. believes she has left behind. A powerful exploration of the enduring claims of the past, Mudwoman is at once a psychic ghost story and an intimate portrait of a woman cracking the glass ceiling at enormous personal cost, which explores the tension between childhood and adulthood, the real and the imagined, and the “public” and “private” in the life of a highly complex contemporary woman.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (March 20, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062095625
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062095626
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #728,103 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is the author of more than 70 books, including novels, short story collections, poetry volumes, plays, essays, and criticism, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys and Blonde. Among her many honors are the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction and the National Book Award. Oates is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 56 people found the following review helpful By D_shrink VINE VOICE on March 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Even though a real fan of this author and having written flattering reviews of her work in the past, this work leaves me in some wonderment [in keeping with the Quaker Theme used in parts of this work]. I also felt it was overly long and repetitive in numerous places, but my biggest concern was the lack of resolution of any type of meaningful ending. It is as though it were written during a bout of schizophrenia, where many things make sense to the originator of the thoughts but not to anyone else.

The heroine survivor-woman of our story is known during her adult years as M.R. [Meredith Ruth] Neukirchen of Carthage, NY in the Adirondack Mountains. She is adopted by a very loving Quaker couple, Agatha and Konrad Neukirchen and given the birthday of 9-21-61, which is also important to the story. She was abandoned by her birth mother Marit Kraeck a very psychotic woman of extremely humble background. Marit tries to kill the child by throwing her in a mudflat, where she is found by a mentally challenged man lead there by a big black bird known as THE KING OF THE CROWS for the rest of the story. As a child she was called either Jedina or Jewell [the discovery of how that is reconciled is part of the story so I won't spoil it]. She gets the not-so-kind nickname Mudwoman, as an adult, and was called Mudgirl, while a child, due to the method of her abandonment.

Another facet of this story is that you are not always sure when an event important to the story really happened or was merely a psychotic episode imagined by our heroine, which included but are not limited to several amorous encounters.
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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Sam Sattler on April 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Mudwoman is dark even by Joyce Carol Oates standards. Oates is well known for novels featuring female leads that do not sense the physical jeopardy they are in before it is almost too late to escape it. Suddenly, these women - as intelligent and accomplished as they may be - recognize that they have wandered into a situation that could cost them their lives. The threat usually comes from an evil or deranged man but, in the case of Mudwoman, all the damage is done by a little girl's own mother.

When she is three, Jedina Kraek's mother decides to murder her and her five-year-old sister. Jedina is shaved bald as part of her mother's religious delusions and tossed into a mud flat near the Black Snake River where her mother assumes that she will drown in the muck. Against all odds, the little girl is found by a mentally handicapped local trapper and taken into a foster family for several years. When the Neukirchens, a childless Quaker couple, adopt her, Jedina (who had mistakenly claimed her older sister's name, Jewel) becomes Meredith Ruth Neukirchen.

"Merry" does her best to live up to the Quaker standards of her parents, and becomes the model student, an overachiever who compensates for her insecurities by excelling at academics. Secretly, Meredith applies for, and wins, the scholarship to Cornell that she believes will be her ticket to a new life far from stifling Carthage, New York.

Mudwoman is told in chapters that alternate between Meredith's girlhood and her present life as the first female president of a prestigious Ivy League university. Now 41, and calling herself M.R.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By N. Andreassen on August 21, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Mudwoman is a challenge. At times, I even hated it—and yet I give it five stars, because…. Well, because it’s so deliberate; because it’s what its author intends it to be; because, without compromise, Oates has successfully compelled me to read and to finish this book, even when I hated it most. And when I say she “compelled me to read” I don’t mean to say this is any “page turner” or “fast-paced thriller.” No, in fact it’s quite the opposite: often uneventful, with much of the narrative nothing more than educated ratiocinations. Moreover, all of this book’s most comfortingly “normal” passages are the ones most irrelevant to it—that is, irrelevant both to the developing storyline and to this obsessively central character’s personal “development” (so to speak, her “psyche”)—and all of the most horrific or deeply disquieting pages are also the most riveting, even while—in the ordinary sense of the word— they are also entirely “unreal.” And that is this book’s great, uncommon strength: it’s the ordinary “real” world (the one in which we must all now live) that comes across here as shallow and repugnant; while the leakings-in of madness, obsession, and crime are this book’s truly haunting attractants.

So, for example, I was personally put off—strongly put off—by occasional references thoughout this novel to 9/11, the “war on terror,” Bush and Cheney, etc. Most often, when I felt inclined to put this novel aside, unfinished, it was because of such references.
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