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We Were the Mulvaneys Paperback – 25 Sep 1997

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Product details

  • Paperback: 454 pages
  • Publisher: New American Library (25 Sept. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452277205
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452277205
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.3 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,312,204 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Joyce Carol Oates' We Were the Mulvaneys is the story of a happy family. After decades of marriage, Mum and Dad are still in love--and the proud parents of a brood of youngsters, which 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 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 memorable. 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 made-for-tv film but this is Oates' 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 you can't help but care about them, even as you wait for disaster to strike them down. --Anita Urquhart, Amazon.com --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


It will consume you. --The Washington Post Book World New testimony to Oates' 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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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Zannie on 31 Dec. 2006
Format: Paperback
The core of the plot in this novel is around the reaction of a family to the rape of their idolised daughter. However, what I really took out of the book is not how to cope with a specific catastrophe, but the importance of inner strength compared to people who rely on external validation to make them feel good about who they are. The degeneration of the father is centred around his perception of what his family think of him, his clients and the various people of the town. His daughter, while somewhat supported internally by her own faith also appears to measure herself through external recognition, while feeling uncomfortable with it at the same time. The catalyst of her rape flings the characters apart, in some instances across the country and while there is more focus on some family members than others, the theme for all is the same in that they avoid a reconciliation with each other until they have come to terms with themselves and formed their own roots away from the central unit.

The lesson they are learning is that the family of one's childhood is never a permanent fixture and that growing away from it is an essential part of truly growing up. The wonderfully strong character of Corinne Mulvaney, the mother of the family, is fortunately the character that her children have inherited and while sometimes they lose their way on the journey, all 4 children are able to leave and develop the various next generations of Mulvaney.

The family is completely different at the close of the novel, but fundamentally intact as, with the exception of Michael Mulvaney Sr, they are all people who have learned to love and appreciate themselves for who they are before returning to the family unit to share their experiences and ensure that the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.

One note on this edition - the editing is slack, with some grammar and spelling errors, plus some continuity issues in the detail.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 30 May 2001
Format: Audio CD
I bought this book on a recent trip, and I'm so glad that I did. I have never read a book that moved me so much, I could really feel for this poor family. Usually, I find it hard to absorb myself in a book, before I've read the first 100 pages but this time, I couldnt put it down from the very beginning.
The book brought home to me how vulnerable we all are, that we could all fall victim to an event that would destroy our lives as we know them. The rape of Marianne Mulvaney, changed the lives of all the characters in a different way, they all were all vastly changed people as the novel concluded to the way they were at the beginning, it highlighted the way a single event can change the entire attitudes and thinking of a whole family.
Marianne was not the only victim of the rape, her parents were and also her three brothers, and it destroyed them as a family. A family who had "everything", and were greatly admired in the community of Mount Ephraim, were suddenly outcasts, in financial difficulty and fighting amongst themselves. Their whole lives changed for the worst...
I would recommend this book to anyone, in fact I already have. It shows that however deep problems go, eventually they'll sort themselves out. The Mulvaney family will never be far from my thoughts.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 1 Dec. 1997
Format: Paperback
As an obsessive Joyce Carol Oates fan I am always conscious of the recent press highlighting (or should I say creating) the struggle between quality and quantity with her writing. I always take these criticisms to heart each time I pick up one of her novels. I think with this book, Joyce Carol Oates has captured a grotesque, yet painfully real piece of Americana again. At the beginning, I found the characters to be too idealistic. I thought a borderline scientific genius and an almost too Christian daughter could never develop from the same household. But as I read on, I thought maybe they were too real rather than idealistic. I realized the novel is through the voice of Judd, the youngest and often times forgotten Mulvaney. Oates captures his personal thoughts and his depictions of his family perfectly. Like always, Oates masters a voice so vividly and accurately, almost making the reader forget who is speaking. Often times in life, we pass others that are almost walking hyperboles because we view them through our own distorted lens. Oates proves to me once again she is a master at depicting the painfully real grotesque that envelopes all of our lives. This is a must read!!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Eileen Shaw TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 3 Oct. 2009
Format: Paperback
The Mulvaneys are well-off, secure, Mike Mulvaney is a proud man, raised in poverty he works hard, builds up his own roofing business; his wife Corinne is large-hearted, resourceful, loving. They live out of town in a rambling, forty acre farm. The children have horses, ponies, dogs, cats, there are goats, there are cows, and it is a kind of wonderful refuge from the politics of the time - from Vietnam, from the ugliness of city and suburb. They are good people, living the good life, struggling sometimes but respected and liked in their small community, until one terrible act tears the family apart.

There is retribution, but the cost has to be paid by everyone involved. Only their goodness, their ordinary worth, shines through. This may sound like the grossest sentimentality, but there is room for a view that goodness exists and Joyce Carol Oates makes it seem perverse to deny that it can. They are not some kind of automatons after all, nor painted as something unique and especially wonderful. They do ordinary things, they lie to each other continually, they do not communicate what they feel, they behave badly, often. But they struggle always not to hurt too much the people they love. They have a rough, honourable kindness about them, even the father whose fate is the worst that can be imagined. I was reminded of lines in Philip Larkin's poem, The Mower:

We should be careful
Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

The ending - one of the best and most gratifying I can recall reading - is beautiful.
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