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We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

We Were the Mulvaneys (1996)

by Joyce Carol Oates

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,147771,284 (3.6)165
  1. 10
    A Good House by Bonnie Burnard (Nickelini)
    Nickelini: Both books are set in small towns and cover the story of one family over many years. Oates's book is darker and more satirical; the characters in Burnard's book are more likeable and believable.
  2. 00
    My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: These literary coming-of-age novels each hauntingly explore the repercussions of a rape on small communities. A large family falls apart in We Were the Mulvaneys, while My Sunshine Away portrays the residents of a single street.
  3. 00
    Atonement by Ian McEwan (ainsleytewce)
  4. 11
    A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton (krizia_lazaro)
  5. 00
    Middle Age: A Romance by Joyce Carol Oates (Booksloth)

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» See also 165 mentions

English (74)  French (2)  Swedish (1)  All languages (77)
Showing 1-5 of 74 (next | show all)
I'm a sucker for a good old family saga, and I'm glad to say that JCO didn't disappoint with this one.

Set in the 1970s, the Mulvaneys are the epitome of the perfect all American family. Michael Snr. runs a successful roofing company and is a stalwart of the business associations and circles of Mt. Emphraim, a small country town. His wife Corinne, a farmer's daughter, runs a hobby antique business from their picture postcard farmhouse, but is at her happiest when gathered around a noisy dinner table with their four children as they laugh and tease each other. The four children are all achievers in their own right and popular at school.

JCO takes her time allowing us to settle in with this rambunctious, close family, before an event happens which shatters the Mulvaney family harmony. I won't spoil it for anyone who might read it in the future, but it's one of those sad unravellings that as a reader you can see doesn't have to be that way.

I enjoyed this novel, as I think it portrayed well the potential frailty of even the strongest of family relationships, and how they can be turned on their head in a way that could never have been foreseen.

I doubt it will be my book of the year, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

4 stars - an enjoyable, page-turning read. ( )
  AlisonY | Jan 11, 2019 |
I mostly really loved this book - the story was compelling and the characters unforgettable. However, a few issues caused me trouble. For a start, there are too many voices - shifts of perspective and narration. It is confusing and distracting. The detailed descriptions of all sorts of random items is overdone, although the author has a wonderful gift for description. Learning about all the afflictions of so many animals and the decor of so many rundown rooms and especially the overuse of the sense of smell all become annoying. I think this book would have been improved with some editing but great nonetheless. ( )
  rosiezbanks | Jun 19, 2018 |
The lumbering Mulvaneys, apparently. Stick with Oates' short work. ( )
  cindiann | May 3, 2018 |
We Were the Mulvaneys tells the story of a close-knit farm family whose lives are shattered when the daughter(sister) is raped at a high school dance in the 1970s. The family's fortunes suddenly plummet as the small town turns against them to side with the rapist's more prestigious family. The children of the Mulvaney family all end up going their separate ways and the novel follows their lives over the years.

Having previously read Oates's Blonde and heard her speak at a public reading, I was so excited to read this book. Unfortunately, this was one of those cases of high expectations being shattered. We Were the Mulvaneys has a very slow start, and I felt like I slogged through the first 80 pages for ages. Partially it was because Oates was setting up so much background; she introduces the town, the farm, the family, the many pets and animals they owned, etc. In addition to trying to keep track of the large family, Oates very early on gives a long list of all their pet names for each other. To wit, "For instance, Michael Sr. was usually Dad but sometimes Curly and sometimes Captain. He could be Grouchy (of the Seven Dwarves), or Groucho (of Groucho Marx fame), he could be Big Bear, Chickie, Sugarcake--these names used exclusively by Mom." And so on for the rest of the six-person family. That's a lot of information to throw at a person all at once. I suspect Oates was trying to show a contrast in this beginning section between the Mulvaneys before and after the rape, but it seemed like she would have done better to show some positive family interactions rather than tell the reader about them.

The story is told in part in the first-person by Judd, the youngest Mulvaney child, from a distance of many years. However, these sections are interspersed between third-person narratives than describe events to which Judd would not have had access. Personally, I found the Judd-narrated parts to be the least interesting and wondered why this technique had been chosen as I felt it added little to to the overall story. Although the story is nominally about the whole family, the characters who we see the most for the bulk of the story (and particularly see the most of their inner lives) are the daughter Marianne and the second son Patrick. Since they are fairly interesting and developed characters, this seemed like a good choice. Judd and the oldest son Mike Jr. are honestly nondescript and the parents, while colorful, were not characters I liked much so I didn't really need to hear more about them than I did.

One thing that bothered me from early on in the book is that another girl in the high school is also raped -- in fact, by multiple members of the high school sporting clique. But she is only mentioned once in passing later. It seemed like this girl -- with a less desirable background -- didn't have a story worthy of telling, unlike Marianne who was frequently described as the perfect, all-American daughter with good grades, popular friends, etc. etc. prior to the sexual assault. I'm not sure if Oates was trying to make a point there, but it seemed to me like she brought up an issue that she decided wasn't worth exploring and I'm not sure why she didn't drop it out of the book altogether then.

In the end, while I found the last roughly 400 pages of this book a compelling enough read, the slow beginning and other issues here and there prevent me from whole-heartedly recommending it. ( )
  sweetiegherkin | Feb 25, 2018 |
This is about how a family coped, or failed to cope with a family tragedy. The family disintegrates, but in the end, they reunite. It was never as it was before, but the human spirit, being indomitable, morphs to a new place where it can survive. I think the book was about 75 pages too long, as the first 100 pages were very very slow moving. Maybe the author wanted to show what a mundane family life they had? 468 pages 4 stars ( )
  tess_schoolmarm | Jun 11, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 74 (next | show all)
In her gracefully sprawling new novel, Joyce Carol Oates delivers a modern family tragedy with a theme as painfully primal as “Oedipus Rex.”
added by prosperosbook | editSalon, David Futrelle (Sep 27, 1996)
What keeps us coming back to Oates Country is something stronger and spookier: her uncanny gift of making the page a window, with something happening on the other side that we'd swear was life itself.
Thanks for writing such a good article, I stumbled onto your blog and read a few post. I like your style of writing
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I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged.
Missing me one place search another,
I stop some where waiting for you.

from Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
for my "Mulvaneys" . . .
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We were the Mulvaneys, remember us?
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0452277205, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:03 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"You will not read a novel more enthralling, more moving, more unforgettably illumined by profoundly human truth than this story of the rise, the fall, and the ultimate redemption of an American family. That family is the Mulvaneys, seemingly blessed by everything that makes life sweet - a successful, hard-working father, a loving mother, three fine sons, and a sweet and pretty daughter. Their residence is picture-perfect High Point Farm, long since converted from actual farming to the cultivation of the joys of country living for adults and children alike. Their position in the community of Mt. Ephraim, New York, seems secure.""Yet something happens on Valentine's Day, 1976 - an incident involving sixteen-year-old Marianne that is hushed up in the town and never spoken of in the Mulvaney home - that causes the bottom to fall out of their world. The impact of this event reverberates throughout the novel as Mike Sr. fights in both barrooms and courtrooms to restore his family's honor, his sons risk everything to right the wrong done to their beloved sister, while Marianne herself spends years drifting before she finds genuine love and fulfillment with a decent man, satisfying work, and a family of her own.""It is the youngest son, Judd, now a newspaperman, who sets himself the task of documenting his family's history - to recall its luminous moments and what seemed a special gift for happiness. The many secrets they kept from each other threatened to destroy them, but ultimately We Were the Mulvaneys celebrates the human miracle that allowed this family to bridge the chasms that had opened up between them, to reunite in the spirit of love and healing."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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