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We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

We Were the Mulvaneys (1996)

by Joyce Carol Oates

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4,525651,067 (3.58)129
  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 129 mentions

English (62)  French (2)  Swedish (1)  All languages (65)
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
Now that I've read 3 books by Joyce Carol Oates I think I can describe them as emotionally-draining. Halfway through this book I thought "wow. these people are so miserable. I wonder why this wasn't an Oprah book club book." Lo and behold, it was an Oprah book! Sometimes I get frustrated with all the description in Oates' books because I need to know what is going to happen to the characters. ( )
  strandbooks | Nov 19, 2014 |
The Mulvaneys are painted in such vivid detail that it's hard to believe this isn't autobiography. The details of happy, and then not so happy, family life are so well-drawn that descriptions overwhelm the action, and this did slow the narrative down to the point where my interest was waning by the time I was 2/3 of the way through. Still, I persevered and felt an unpleasant amount of gloom, as was intended, I'm sure.

Like Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, the point of view in this story is what I can best describe as 'omniscient first person', written by the youngest brother in a way that gets right into each family member's head. It's an unusual technique and maybe we're not meant to notice it, but I can't help but wonder if Judd's POV is an unreliable one. ( )
  LynleyS | Oct 10, 2014 |
What is a family except memories?

This is one of the central questions at the heart of We Were The Mulvaneys, a story of the picture-perfect American family, who seemly have it all, yet one day an incident involving the sixteen-year-old daughter rend the fabric of their family life and cause tragic consequences for years to come. It is these memories that are explored, narrated by the youngest son Judd, as the reader is transported back to the bustling, lively, and warm family farm in upstate New York. Oates excels in describing the minutiae of everyday life, drawing the reader into the heart of the family and their home. Every memory, every experience is perfectly recreated for the reader as Judd Mulvaney relives those formative days in the family home. Throughout the novel, it is Oates' descriptions of the emotions and the setting that completely envelops the reader and keeps them turning the pages.

A consequence of this is that the story does take a while to get underway, yet that time is not wasted as the reader is instead able to fully know every aspect of the Mulvaney family, which makes their eventual fall even more poignant. It is the sole daughter who is the centre of the incident and the reverberations from which shatter the tranquil, storybook lives of all the other family members. Yet, that is just the catalyst, for more troubles and problems beset the family - Oates ensures that it never rains but it pours for the Mulvaneys. Still this is a novel of the rise, fall and final salvation and redemption of this all-American family - it is in a way a deconstruction and reconstruction of that archetypical family - self-made husband, smiling wife, sports star son etc.

The ending is painfully bittersweet - redemption comes to the family but at a high price: death, self-imposed exile, resentment, and despair have taken a toll on them family; yet, one thing remains constant throughout the novel: the bonds of love between them all that cannot be broken (even if they should have been).

Oates' prose is richly detailed and fully draws the reader into the lives of the Mulvaneys - it deeply personal and emotional. Not only are the descriptions of persons and feelings are detailed, Oates also populates the Mulvaneys' lives with animals that are as multi-faceted as her human characters. Even High Point Farm is alive. All of the Mulvaney family are truly human: that is, their emotions are real and complicated, their responses are fickle and real. It is hard to truly find a central character to root for; instead, each one is flawed (sometimes to the extreme).

A passage near the start of the novel sums up much of the central theme of memory in the novel - it: seemingly prophetic, it is what follows in the waking world after the sweet dreamlike life the Mulvaneys took for granted, while serving as an example of Oates' delicately-crafted prose.

Getting us into focus requires effort, let getting a dream into focus and keeping it there. One of those hauntingly tantalising dreams that seem so vivid, so real, until you look closely, try to see - and then they begin to fade, like smoke. ( )
  xuebi | May 30, 2014 |
In a book where none of the characters appealed to me, Joyce Carol Oates somehow wrote a book that I liked. Half-way through, I considered abandoning it because the misery, the utter hopelessness was too much and the characters living in the book were too annoying. I struggle with Michael Mulvaney, Sr. especially, but that is the intent of the author, I believe. Corinne, Patrick and Mule were all unreliable in their own way. I wish more time was spent with Marianne, but I was two-thirds through the book before she became a more frequent presence and we learned of her point of view (after the move). In the end, Joyce Carol Oates seems to say "what is a family if not the memories that follow each family member around?" Interesting. ( )
  kingarooski | Oct 18, 2013 |
Really Early Bird comment: I really strongly dislike the current narration style. Pleh!

Basic Summary: "Perfect", popular, loveable Mulvaney family is adored by their town. Until, their only daughter is date raped on prom night and the town turns on them. Only it's much snootier and more boring than it sounds. All the kids go off and implode into messes, the Father becomes a drunk (not a spoiler!). I wouldn't call the book predictable but I wouldn't call it riveting.

The narration style drove me nuts and, I know, that is 100% personal opinion. There were dashes of 1st, 2nd and 3rd person narrative. Like someone dumped the storytelling into a blender and spit it back out. Despite the first chapter making it clear that the entire story is supposed to be narrated by the "journalist" youngest son.

Finished 8/28: I would rather have someone drop a brick on my face from a 3rd story building than have to re-read this book ever again. That being said, I know why it was recommended to me and the writing was pretty darn good and I may need to check into a different Joyce Carol Oates novel to test it out.

Final note: They describe the mother as a "graying redhead", which everyone knows is a rarity! Us natural redheads don't gray, we blonde!


1) "But I believe in uttering the truth, even if it hurts. Particularly if it huts".
2) "If nothing can cause such tears, what might something someday do?"
( )
  tealightful | Sep 24, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 62 (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.
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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)

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A family of six disintegrates after a daughter is raped by a high-school student in upstate New York. The disgrace -- there is some question if it was rape -- sends the father to drink and financial ruin, the girl leaves home, the others follow. By the author of What I Lived For.… (more)

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