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We Were the Mulvaneys Paperback – September 1, 1997

566 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

A happy family, the Mulvaneys. After decades of marriage, Mom and Dad are still in love--and the proud parents of a brood of youngsters that includes a star athlete, a class valedictorian, and a popular cheerleader. Home is an idyllic place called High Point Farm. And the bonds of attachment within this all-American clan do seem both deep and unconditional: "Mom paused again, drawing in her breath sharply, her eyes suffused with a special lustre, gazing upon her family one by one, with what crazy unbounded love she gazed upon us, and at such a moment my heart would contract as if this woman who was my mother had slipped her fingers inside my rib cage to contain it, as you might hold a wild, thrashing bird to comfort it."

But as we all know, Eden can't last forever. And in the hands of Joyce Carol Oates, who's chronicled just about every variety of familial dysfunction, you know the fall from grace is going to be a doozy. By the time all is said and done, a rape occurs, a daughter is exiled, much alcohol is consumed, and the farm is lost. Even to recount these events in retrospect is a trial for the Mulvaney offspring, one of whom declares: "When I say this is a hard reckoning I mean it's been like squeezing thick drops of blood from my veins." In the hands of a lesser writer, this could be the stuff of a bad television movie. But this is Oates's 26th novel, and by now she knows her material and her craft to perfection. We Were the Mulvaneys is populated with such richly observed and complex characters that we can't help but care about them, even as we wait for disaster to strike them down. --Anita Urquhart

From Publishers Weekly

Elegiac and urgent in tone, Oates's wrenching 26th novel (after Zombie) is a profound and darkly realistic chronicle of one family's hubristic heyday and its fall from grace. The wealthy, socially elite Mulvaneys live on historic High Point Farm, near the small upstate town of Mt. Ephraim, N.Y. Before the act of violence that forever destroys it, an idyllic incandescence bathes life on the farm. Hard-working and proud, Michael Mulvaney owns a successful roofing company. His wife, Corinne, who makes a halfhearted attempt at running an antique business, adores her husband and four children, feeling "privileged by God." Narrator Judd looks up to his older brothers, athletic Mike Jr. ("Mule") and intellectual Patrick ("Pinch"), and his sister, radiant Marianne, a popular cheerleader who is 17 in 1976 when she is raped by a classmate after a prom. Though the incident is hushed up, everyone in the family becomes a casualty. Guilty and shamed by his reaction to his daughter's defilement, Mike Sr. can't bear to look at Marianne, and she is banished from her home, sent to live with a distant relative. The family begins to disintegrate. Mike loses his business and, later, the homestead. The boys and Corinne register their frustration and sadness in different, destructive ways. Valiant, tainted Marianne runs from love and commitment. More than a decade later, there is a surprising denouement, in which Oates accommodates a guardedly optimistic vision of the future. Each family member is complexly rendered and seen against the background of social and cultural conditioning. As with much of Oates's work, the prose is sometimes prolix, but the very rush of narrative, in which flashbacks capture the same urgency of tone as the present, gives this moving tale its emotional power. 75,000 first printing; author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Plume (September 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452277205
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452277205
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (566 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,792,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

192 of 220 people found the following review helpful By Steven Charnick on February 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
The Oprah book club selections are certainly getting more complex!

This book will strike an immediate chord to a family 'putting on airs' yet within the house having its problems. It hithome for me and will most likely hit home for many others because we know of families that seem perfect.... and often we find out much later what was truly happening.

I do not believe that the choice of Mt. Ephraim as the hometown of the Mulvaneys was by accident. Ephraim and Manasseh were sons of Joseph - and while the latter committed heinous crimes against all moral authority, Ephraim was a redeemer. A striking metaphor against which much hurt is set - and one missed by the editorial reviewers.

This family functions quite well - all that we'd say is 'too good to be true' *is* actually true until Marianne, the girl so beautifully described that we actually *feel* she's the 'girl next door' to *us* is sexually assaulted. Actually, we are never told whether it was rape or consensual. And the beauty of this is that for the purposes of this story it doesn't matter.

It is the *effect* of the assault on the family that begins their descent. I will not spoil the book by telling you the details as to how each of the brothers and the parents fall off their respective wagons. But the cumulative effect is devasting, as told by the narrator, a now adult youngest brother Judd.

How can such a complete destruction of a classic nuclear family be a book I'd want to read? Because as someone once said, it is when a man stares into the abyss that he finds his character.

Suffice it to say that when you are done with this book you will feel as though you knew the Mulvaneys, suffered with them, and wonder how you would have reacted.
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127 of 144 people found the following review helpful By Dianna Setterfield on December 19, 2001
Format: Paperback
There is no doubt in my mind that Joyce Carol Oates is a wonderfully gifted writer. However, I don't believe her writing style is for everyone. We Were the Mulvaneys, however evident of Oates's talent, is a tedious, overdescriptive work that takes patience and perseverence to get through.
We Were the Mulvaneys is the story of the Mulvaney family in the mid-1970s. They are the more-than-typical family, like the ones on TV who play games together in the living room after dinner. A little on the corny side, but the love they share for each other is obvious in the beginning chapters. Then something happens to one of the family members - a tragedy atrocious and unforgettable - that threatens to tear the Mulvaneys apart.
While the story itself was very good, I could not get into the book. I was hoping maybe it would be a late-bloomer, but there was never a point that I reached that inspired me to keep reading. I did finish the novel, but only after a week of exhausting myself. However, there is an audience out there for this book, and my suggestion is this: If you are the type of reader that enjoys a slow pace, highly descriptive writing, wordy sentences and a lack of dialogue, then We Were the Mulvaneys would be an excellent choice. My own personal shortcomings about this book is in no way reflective of the talent or storytelling ability of Joyce Carol Oates. Please read this and see for yourself.
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55 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Phyllis A. Koch on January 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
This novel speaks volumes about how families fall apart and are mended again. The book is engrossing; the story spins out then out of control to a point of terrible sorrow; then it is spun into something more resilent than it was before. It takes one twist in a young woman's life to push the family to its knees. Her misstep resonated within her family to the point of destruction. The twist was a sexual assault; the girl was drinking for the first time, got in the wrong car, and was raped by a popular kid from school. The impact on the Mulvaneys- who all seemed perfect- was shattering. They try to stand together, but the town turns against them once the accusation is made public. Since the story takes place in the '60's, the rape made the girl into both the agressor and the victim. The father, who took such pride in his family, especially his only daughter, takes to drink. He also decides he can't stand to sight of Marianne and all the ruin she has thus far brought to the family. He forces his wife to choose between him and their daughter; in a moment of cowardice, the mother sides with her husband. Thus, the daughter is banished from the family to her aunt's home in another town. The family falls further into disrepair as the father loses his business, the oldest son goes to Vietnam, the second son goes to school but gets trapped in a sea of indifference. The story is told from the point of view of the youngest son. He is bewildered by the power of accusation and to some extent, sex. He is horrified by his father, misses his sister and ignored by his brothers. Only his mother stays by his side; but their relationship is complicated. He's the heart of the family so he has to watch his family falls apart.Read more ›
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51 of 58 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
I have to admit this is the first book I have ever read in which I felt compelled to write a review. I am an avid reader and my tastes are very eclectic so I was suprised by my emotions upon reading this book. It was the first novel of Joyce Carol Oates that I had read so I didn't really know what to expect. But I had always heard she was a very fine writer so I figured I'd give it a try. Also, I have read many of Oprah's book club selections and generally found them fine. This book is the exception. It may be the most depressing, disappointing book I have ever read. I realize its a dark subject, rape, however I didn't know it was possible to take a dark subject like this and take it to an even lower level. I found the treatment of Marianne by her parents, particularly her mother to be both unrealistic as well as borderline criminal. I realize that things like this happen in "the real world". However, this is fiction. To portray this family for the first 150 pages or so as "perfect", to show them with incredibly strong emotions and lovingness in one part of the book and to switch midstream as Oates did and not only do a 360 degree change was completely outside the realm of realism within this story. Of course I realize that parents might react as the Mulvaney's did upon the rape of their child. However, there was absolutely nothing in these parents character to suggest that this was remotely possible.When Corinne sent her supposed "beloved" daughter away, I threw the book down in disgust. Both because I felt it was a horrible betrayal by a mother but more importantly from a reviewers point of view, a betrayal by Oates of the readers. It just didn't ring true and appeared to me to be a device.Read more ›
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