on 31 December 2006
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.
on 30 May 2001
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.
on 1 December 1997
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!!
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.
on 10 October 2001
I have just finished reading "We Were The Mulvaneys" and I found it very interesting. It is a long book (c. 450 pages) and quite heavy-going at times, but there is always so much to think about. You get to see the story from so many characters' points of view and although you always have your own opinion on what happened, the author manages to convey everyone's different feelings so that we understand why each character feels that way, even if we disagree.
This is a book that really makes you think. See if you can read it at the same time as a friend so you have someone to discuss it with.
on 31 March 1999
Although the story is captivating, it just takes forever for Ms. Oates to tell it. The reader ends up knowing more detail about the characters than they probably know about themselves. After wading through it all, the ending is rather rushed and disappointing.
on 12 June 1998
The Mulvaneys' cups ranneth over for a short, enchanted while. Until "it" happened. How many high school girls go to a dance, drink too much alcohol, and find themselves, perhaps only half realizing, a victim of date-rape? A LOT. Happens every day, in America, everywhere. When it happens in the charmed Mulvaney family, a family genuinely - almost sickeningly - happy, the fallout continues for years. Each family member is crushed, in his or her own way, under the weight of the snowballing pain and disintegration. This is the saddest book I think I've ever read, and I loved it beyond what I can express within the confines of the English language. We see here an uncharacteristically loving, forgiving Joyce Carol Oates. Her quirky use of repetition is reined in and so made more effective than ever here. She sees how tragic are the patterns we make as we stumble into each day just trying to get through. We poor silly stupid arrogant humans don't see our own "patterns" until the end, when it's too late to do anything about them but grieve for our mistakes, our clumsy, unfully-lived lives. I actually give 4-and-a-half out of 5 stars, but I'll go for the full 5 since 4-and-a-half isn't an option.
on 10 December 1997
First of all I like JCO's writing, but this book stunned me with its characters, all of whom seem to make the most horrible decisions in life. I was frustrated and angry with every single one of them all through the book. I cannot believe that people would respond in this manner to the ordeal of the daughter. I am sad to finish many books because I know that I will miss the characters that I have just spent hours with. When I finished this book I had a different feeling. I said good riddance to all of them.
on 24 July 1998
Marianne, the cheerleader and lovable peace-maker in the Mulvaney's, brings the family to doom and destruction through a violent and terrifying experience. The family acts as victims powerless in their approach to this heinous crime committed to their sweet daughter.
Joyce Carol Oates shows how each member of the family through distinctly unique methods express their feelings toward the crime, the criminal and the victim. The Mulvaney's show more passion in punishing the perpretrator then consoling the victim.
One of the most tender scenes occurs when Muffin, Marianne's dying cat, succumbs in her arms. And her friend, later her husband, relates that Muffin was not the only one that loved her. The Mulvaney's through unending love and pride in themselves triumph to come together in the closing. This family faces life so realistically that you can see it happening to you.
Wonderful book, that starts off with the perfect American family: cheerleader daughter, sportsman eldest son, genius middle son...and the youngest, Judd, who narrates much of it. Loving mother, father who's 'made it' in business and socially....
And then Marianne is raped by a local boy. The whole story is on how this throws their whole lives out of kilter, breaks up the family, sends certain members on a downward spiral.
I thought the character of Patrick (the intellectual one) was BRILLIANTLY drawn; I understood his thinking as he embarked on an unexpected course of action. That's the great thing with Oates' writing- you may disapprove of her characters' actions, but you fully understand their thinking and motivation for what they do.
I couldn't put it down...it's the third one of her books that I've read and I think the best.