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Mudwoman by Joyce Carol Oates


by Joyce Carol Oates

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
This psychological thriller is written in typical Oates style--a bit overwrought, but you get used to it and it works. Mudwoman is MR (Meredith), who has recently taken up position as the president of a prestigious Ivy League university. She is called "Mudwoman" because when she was a toddler, her mother abandoned her in the middle of mud flats to die. Covered in mud, she was rescued in time, and was lovingly raised by adoptive parents. However, she has always had a fragile sense of self, and constantly strives to be "the best" at whatever she does.

The book alternates the story of her childhood and youth with her year as president of the university, as it gradually becomes apparent that her health is deteriorating. Strange things happen, and the reader is never sure what is real and what is not--whether MR is hallucinating or the events are really happening. Although long, this is a page-turner, and Oates paints an incisive psychological portrait of a troubled, but high-achieving woman. I am a fan of Joyce Carol Oates, and I recommend this to other fans.

3 1/2 stars ( )
  arubabookwoman | Jul 14, 2017 |
First contact with this author, and a good surprise; great character this woman! which succeed to survive with this life and do with what the others want her to be.
Mudwoman or madwoman, interesting way to describe the intimate life of this character and the danger of keeping the past in ignorance. ( )
  Gerardlionel | Apr 1, 2016 |
Mudwoman is not a book for anyone who is feeling depressed. M. R. [Meredith Ruth] Neukirchen may be highly accomplished now, the first female president of a university that didn't even admit women when she was born, but she had a very rocky start in life.

The book wanders back and forth between Meredith's past and present. The present is set in the first year of her presidency and the summer after. The past gives us the day her mother, whom we could have called a religious maniac back in the 1960s, threw one of her little daughters onto a mudflat, from which she was rescued by a local trapper.

'Mudgirl' was the nickname the little girl (Jewel or Jedinah?) was given by her foster father. The chapter headings are for either 'Mudgirl' or 'Mudwoman.' M. R. escapes death a second time by being adopted by the Neukirchins, a nice Quaker couple from Carthage, New York. Too bad they tried shield their 'Merry' from her past and the harsher realities of life.

It is Conrad who gives M.R. her love of philosophy. Agatha, a librarian, teaches M. R. to love books. M. R. doesn't bother to visit or keep in touch with her adoptive parents much after she goes off to college. She seems to be a dreadful ingrate for much of the book, but we're given a motive later.

For all of the love the Neukirchens lavished on their daughter, M. R. has grown up believing herself unworthy of love. She desperately craves it. A 'people pleaser' who falls apart when someone dislikes her, M. R. is working much too hard. She's been doing a good job of forgetting things she doesn't want to remember, but that's changing now.

George W. Bush is President and the US is at war with Iraq. M. R. was against going to war in the first place and certainly doesn't support it now. The conservative element of her mostly-liberal university is difficult for M. R. to bear. One student brings her distress to a head.

There are several scenes which turn out to be nightmares, or possibly hallucinations. Because they're portrayed in the same manner as the scenes meant to be M. R.'s reality, the reader gets to wonder until given notice or some clue that It Didn't Happen. After all, when a book starts out with a scene as horrific as this one did, it's hard to assure oneself that a new scene can't be real.

Thank goodness some members of M. R.'s staff are bolder than the housekeeper who refuses to violate the privacy of the university president's chambers. I would have liked to have heard the housekeeper's remorse over what could have happened because of her attitude, but we aren't given her reaction.

The summer months are better for our heroine. The final scene suggests she's learning at last. I hope so. So many times M. R.'s reactions or the behavior of others toward her made me wince in sympathy and remembered pain.

Mudwoman held my interest through all 16 CDs. Ms. Ericksen's narration was just right for a character as tormented as Meredith, in my opinion. Again, though, I don't recommend reading or listening to this novel if feeling blue or depressed.

You will not hear the infamous N-word in this book. The author is using 'niggardly', a synonym for 'stingy'.

For readers who are so young that not even their parents listened to a radio station that played it, 'Both Sides Now' is a real song by Joni Mitchell. It's fitting for Mudwoman, so I do recommend looking it up and listening to it.

I also recommend letting Monty Python's 'Bruces' Philosophers Song' run through your head every time a philosopher is mentioned -- it helps lighten the mood. ( )
  JalenV | Mar 21, 2015 |
Like every other Joyce Carol Oates novel I've read, this story veers between 'gripping' and 'terrifying' and leaves me feeling wrung out and shaken. I can't imagine what it must be like to write like this--to spend your waking hours writing this kind of writing. It's magnificent, harsh, brittle, relentless writing, and it leaves me not wanting to read another Oates book for a long time, however unforgettable her books always are. ( )
  poingu | Jan 29, 2015 |

Dear Reader,

This is a book about the true development of a crushed human soul. A woman who has lived with a confusing and troubled past. A past that she has broken away from to become a reputable and accomplished President of a very prestigious University (the first FEMALE one). Even though M.R. has gained acclaim from her academic career, we slowly see her unravel in a horrific downward spiral. It brings the reader to a very strange place, that has you wondering what might be real and what might be hallucination. This is something that Oates does very well and really brings about that gothic and dark feel she is so known for.

We're first introduced to M.R. (Mudwoman) as a child who lives with an overtly religious zealot mother and her creepy pedophilic boyfriend. There is no mention if this man is her father, and later on even M.R. reflects on this, wondering if she ever even had a father. Within the first few chapters (might even be the first one, can't quite remember) we read in horror as her mother takes this precious little girl and throws her into a mud pit to suffocate (hence the title of the book). By the good graces of a local who is guided by this mysterious "King of Crows" (a recurring animal guide in the story), he finds this child in the mud and rescues her. This all happens very early and is even mentioned on the book flap, so I don't consider this a spoiler. The child is then taken to an orphanage and adopted shortly after by a Quaker family, very kind and loving but they have a strange story of their own. I won't get into this because I think there is a pivotal point to the back-story of this family, one I don't want to ruin for you.

The book goes back and forth from present to past as we watch M.R. slowly deteriorate and travel back to places that remind her of her past. Oates did this so smoothly, it wasn't hard to follow at all. I love when an Author has a good grasp of when to move the story from present to past without losing too much of the feeling. You find yourself wondering what exactly is going on, but not because of the time frame. This feeling is from all the daydreams, hallucinations and events that happen and you don't quite know which is which. Is what just happened a dream? Reality? It was kind of fun trying to figure it all out without getting you lost in the process.

I think my favorite part of this book is the major theme of feminism. Yes, Oates tends to have a heavy hand on this theme in most of her books... but does that make it any less important? No! Mostly because she does it so gosh darn well. You have to remember that Oates was born in the late 1930's, during a period of time that was extremely enclosed. She grew up on a farm and attended a school with only one classroom! She was given a typewriter at age 14 and has been writing ever since. She really makes the perfect feminism writer, although she claims she doesn't like that label and would rather be known as "a woman who writes". I just adore everything about this woman, so yeah... I'm pretty biased.

Getting back to the book, Mudwoman is so chock full of symbolism that at times I was wondering if I was fully understanding everything there was to the story. For example, during M.R.'s travels she came across many physical bridges that also played a huge part in unraveling her past. These bridges were big turning points for her, crossing them brought her clarity to her past. This was probably one of the most obvious symbols in the book and I'm sure I missed quite a few of the more inconspicuous ones. This would be a book to re-read, knowing that the second attempt would bring about much more clarity to the story. If you want to challenge yourself a little, I suggest reading this book and trying to reflect on what Oates really was trying to convey with Mudwoman. I would be interested to see what others thought.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug ( )
  yougotamber | Aug 22, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Joyce Carol Oatesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Brandis, MartinCover photosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dziekonski, KarenExecutive producersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ericksen, SusanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McElroy, JohnProducersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saltzman, AllisonCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tonn, TravisExecutive producersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062095625, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:36 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

M.R. Neukirchen--the first female president of a lauded Ivy League institution--struggles to hold onto her self-identity in the face of personal and professional demons.

» see all 4 descriptions

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