1990s Chunkster Classics

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

We Were the Mulvaneys

Five words from the blurb: family, farm, rape, tragic, consequences

Joyce Carol Oates was one of those authors I’d always wanted to try. She has written over forty novels so it was difficult to know where to start, but a quick Twitter conversation suggested We Were the Mulvaneys might be her best, so I bought a copy.

The Mulvaneys are a fairly wealthy family who live happily on a big farm, seventy miles south of Lake Ontario. The three brothers and their sister, Marianne, grow up as well respected members of their community, but everything changes when Marianne is raped and the family must cope with this massive emotional upheaval.

I initially loved this book. The descriptions of the family and their surroundings were vivid and engaging.

You could do an inventory of the Mulvaney staircase and have a good idea what the family was like. Staircases in old farmhouses like ours were oddly steep, almost vertical, and narrow. Our lower stairs, though, were always cluttered at the edges, for here, as everywhere in the house, all sorts of things accumulated, set down “temporarily” and not picked up again, nor even noticed, for weeks.

The pace was slow, but I didn’t mind as I loved becoming a part of their happy world. Their little stories about every day life were compelling and I came to feel I knew exactly what it would be like to live amongst them.

Unfortunately things went downhill after about 100 pages and I’m in the unusual position of having conflicting reasons why. On the one hand, I want to criticise the book for being too ordinary, failing to add anything new or interesting to the sad story of teenager who has been raped; but on the other hand, I didn’t think the plot was very realistic and POTENTIAL SPOILER HIGHLIGHT TO READ I thought that such a strong family would have bonded together, not fallen apart in that way. I guess the truth is that I just got bored. The plot was too slow to justify the length and I fell out of love with the characters.

Joyce Carol Oates is clearly a talented writer and I can see myself enjoying some of her other books, but I’m afraid this one wasn’t original or entertaining enough for me.


Which other  novels by Joyce Carol Oates would you recommend?

The thoughts of other bloggers:

 It is such a complete portrait of the human experience… Book Lust

…it was worth reading, if only to quench years of curiosity. Literary Amnesiac

I could write more about what happens, but I can’t be bothered to, which sounds dreadful, but that’s how the book made me feel by the end.  Book Snob