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We Were the Mulvaneys Paperback – September 1, 1997
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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
“It will consume you.”—The Washington Post Book World
“New testimony to Oates’s great intelligence and dead-on imaginative powers. It is a book that will break your heart, heal it, then break it again every time you think about it.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review
“What keeps us coming back to Oates Country is her uncanny gift of making the page a window, with something happening on the other side that we’d swear was like life itself.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A major achievement that stands with Oates’ finest studies of American life...the novel is a testament to the tenacious bonds of the family, the restorative power of love and capacity to endure and prevail.”—The Chicago Tribune
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One of my goodreads friends warned me that this book is depressing. I found it inspiring. With the exception of the father, Mulvaney family members are all resilient. The survive and move on from events that at first seem disastrous. Those events change the direction of their lives, but they grow stronger and in the long run wind up happier than they would have been otherwise..
For me, the conclusion -- a family Fourth of July gathering was particularly poignant as I, by chance, read it alone, covid-sequestered, on the Fourth of July, with fireworks going off in the background.
Her father could not accept what happened to her, and banished her to live away from the rest of the family. The story then relates how each family member was affected after Marianne leaves the family. Mr. Mulvaney spiralled from a successful business owner to a drunk who could no longer support his family.
Each member of the family was negatively affected by the aftermath of the rape. Their evolution back to emotional health was a long journey. Years later, after Mr. Mulvaney's death, the family reunites at a family gathering over the Fourth of July. Their individual journeys find them reuniting as people go have found their way back to emotional health and happiness.
The family implodes with such devastation to its core. Joyce Carol Oats tells this sad tale that just keeps spiraling out-of-control with no brakes. I kept waiting for someone to be an adult and take charge of the situation, but it doesn’t happen.
The children are so different from one another, and have such a hard time relating to each other when they leave their childhood home. The oldest and the “All-American,” Michael, the genius, Patrick, the too-good to be true, Marianne, and the baby, Judd, all leave their childhood home and are thrown into a world that they have to navigate alone and without parental assistance because of a tragedy that happens to Marianne, the only daughter and sister. Their stories vividly portray the anguish they faced trying to grow up in this new world with rules they don’t quite understand.
The father and mother bothered me, and they will bother you also. It’s hard to understand them now, but I try to remember that time and my parents and the world as it was. There are probably plenty of parents that can’t handle the curve balls life throws at them, but it troubles me when children are involved.
I really enjoyed the book – it made me angry, sad, and in the end hopeful – just what a good book should! Book clubs will have a lot of discussion generated by the parents and the children’s adaptation of their lives. Is Patrick justified in his actions? Is Marianne really so complacent and docile? Is Corinne a good mother, a good wife? How could Michael, Sr. blame everyone else?
Good book, good discussion! I gave it an 8.5 on my book club website.
The narrative jumps points of view among all the major characters quite seamlessly, and you really can't predict how things are going to turn out. Once again, great book!
Top international reviews
We start to get a good feeling for the family, and their sort of place in the local hierarchy and then we read of an event that happens to Marianne, the daughter of the family. One thing is for sure, after this incident, on Valentine’s Day 1976, things will never be quite the same again.
Why this works so well is because we can all identify somewhat with this story, although of course not all of us have a family member who suffers like Marianne, but as we know if we look at our own families there are certain quirks people have, and secrets kept by some from others. We read of how Marianne copes (or doesn’t) with what happens to her, and the outrage and shock felt by the rest of the family, as they know they can never really get justice in a court of law, which really affects the father. And thus, as the family slowly starts to disintegrate, we can see what the different members of the family decide to do next, how they cope, and how their preconceived ideas for the future start to alter.
Bringing to life a family with all its warts and all, so this becomes a good dissection of a cohesive group who loses that cohesion, and how tragedy starts to become apparent. This takes in the psychology of different people, and so we can see how religion may help some, whilst others seek assistance from elsewhere, including the bottom of a bottle.
The end of this book though does hold out hope, not making this a tale of just gloom and doom, as we are taken to 1993, and a family reunion of sorts. We read then of what the members of the family are up to, their ambitions and desires, and that with time, different outlooks and the loss of the patriarch, so things may be able to alter towards a deeper understanding and rapprochement between the family members. Not only are the main characters brought to life, but so is the scenery and even the interactions with some of the pets. Admittedly this is not a fast-paced tale by any means, but then it does really come to life in your hands as you feel the authenticity and power of the story, that has been so finely crafted.
This book is told through the narration of Judd the baby of the family, as he struggles to comprehend the personalities and complex relationships in his chaotic family.
The domineering patriarch and the loving loyal matriarch who has to make a terrible choice after a horrific event that rends the family and leads to near-disaster.
Controversial topics like revenge, date rape and marital breakdown are covered to challenge the reader and this book kept me hanging in till the end.
A masterpiece like all of Joyce Carol Oates’ works.
I would recommend this book and the beautiful descriptions of the farm and animals. I have never been to the USA, but feel I have been given a window on rural America of yesteryear in all its imperfect glory.
It's less stylised and so more accessible than some of Oates' novels. Set in small-town 1970s America, the novel is evocative of time and place. Oates captures the look, smell and feel of the countryside around the Mulvaney's farm and the family's relationships with their pets is an important part of the story.
Recommended if you like long stories about people, their motivations and relationships.
"We were the Mulvaneys" is a very enjoyable book, and there is much more in it of what I've just said, of course. It's up to you do discover it!
It's well worth reading, and a very good book.