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Mudwoman: A Novel Hardcover – March 20, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (March 20, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780062095626
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062095626
  • ASIN: 0062095625
  • 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 (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,071,766 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“[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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Customer Reviews

There is too much emphasis on the main protagonist and little mystery.
Ron Crawford
To a point, I appreciate her way of presenting the dark interior life of someone as a jumble of memories and perceptions that are not clearly "real" or "not real".
kbester
Depressing, confusing, and no real ending..very disappointed in this book..this author has and could do better.
J S Little

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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36 of 39 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 Peggy on August 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I found this book to be very difficult to read. It skipped back and forth too often and it was very confusing. I was never really sure if M.R. was actually living something, dreaming, or hallucinating. The writing left a lot to be desired with many awkward or fragmented sentences. It just did not flow easily. Even though I found the book hard to get through, I did finish it, only to be somewhat disappointed with the ending.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Joanne M. Watkins on September 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While this story opened with an intensity that prompted me to keep reading, things just went downhill. I have read Joyce Carol Oates and enjoyed her writing which prompted me to read this. What an arduous task. Wouldn't let it get the better of me - just knew there must be something at the end to pull it all together. Wrong.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By janny van winkle on April 20, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was unable to stop reading this, once started. Disturbing, yes. Disappointing, no! I dont understand how readers can be disappointed by an ending. This is the way JCO intended. It is the same as criticizing a painting because it does not follow conventional beauty. I was and continue to be confused about certains aspects of the novel, but this mirrors my own mind, blurred lines between the real and imagined. Memories as seen through another's life and mind. I read it in one taut marathon sitting. Reading through the night, a darkened house, with all the night noises scaring the heck out of me, and ghosts behind every door!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John Hovig on October 14, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"Mudwoman" is a fable of the quest for self-worth. A very young girl was thrown by her mother to her death, into the local river's mudflats, in the 1960's. But the child survived, and now M.R. Neukirchen is a successful, high-achieving, 40-something woman, searching desperately for her own value. The final scene delivers the answer to her quest in a fateful and unexpected encounter. "Mudwoman" is a powerful and thoughtful book.

I found the ending confusing at first. The novel was a good read -- it flowed smoothly and was delightfully insightful -- but I didn't understand how the ending related, or what the overall theme was. And the book is complex. It weaves two fully-developed threads through each other, across time, with plenty of important characters, past and present. It had to mean something.

Maria Russo's NY Times review (March 30, 2012) touches on something important. Russo first highlights one of M.R.'s comments -- "My dream is to be -- of service!" -- then asks: "At what point is a prolific worker a kind of sucker? Is all the productivity just a way to escape the pain of facing other areas of life?"

Ms Russo hit the nail on the head. The book is a tragedy of the search for self-worth. M.R. works herself to the bone. She wants to be of use -- to be valuable, to be loved, respected, admired, esteemed -- and ultimately whole. She fantasizes self-aggrandizingly about how impressive her statements or actions will be.

But M.R.'s decision-making becomes skewed. She makes one bad judgment after another. She has a fine and intelligent mind, but doesn't always think straight. Her over-exertion and introversion -- is it misanthropy? -- addle her brain.

She collects bad relationships. Her brain is an echo chamber.
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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.

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