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We Were the Mulvaneys

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The Mulvaneys of High Point Farm in Mt. Ephraim, New York, are a large and fortunate clan, blessed with good looks, abundant charisma, and boundless promise. But over the twenty-five year span of this ambitious novel, the Mulvaneys will slide, almost imperceptibly at first, from the pinnacle of happiness, transformed by the vagaries of fate into a scattered collection of lost and lonely souls.It is the youngest son, Judd, now an adult, who attempts to piece together the fragments of the Mulvaneys' former glory, seeking to uncover and understand the secret violation that occasioned the family's tragic downfall. Each of the Mulvaneys endures some form of exile- physical or spiritual - but in the end they find a way to bridge the chasms that have opened up among them, reuniting in the spirit of love and healing.

454 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 1996

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About the author

Joyce Carol Oates

796 books8,003 followers
Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is also the recipient of the 2005 Prix Femina for The Falls. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and she has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. Pseudonyms ... Rosamond Smith and Lauren Kelly.

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5 stars
26,212 (26%)
4 stars
36,444 (36%)
3 stars
26,478 (26%)
2 stars
8,026 (8%)
1 star
3,118 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,553 reviews
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,215 reviews9,892 followers
September 20, 2010
Six months after the death of Joyce Carol Oates a couple of her fans will visit her grave. Just underneath the keening mournful almost-Canadian wind as they stand by the graveside they will hear to their consternation a little tiptappy scratching noise. From underground. They will run run run to get the caretaker who will get the police who will get the bigger police. They'll all hear the sound. Tippytappy, scritchscratch. They'll hum and haw, and then they'll exhume the body. When they crack open the coffin next to JCO's earthly remains they'll find a neat 600 page typescript of the new novel. It will be Joyce's 53rd. Oh, what's that you say? Her 54th - they found another one in the boot of a car she used to drive - and it's another masterpiece you say?

Yes, JCO is the Vacuum Monster of contemporary lit - you remember, the one in the Beatles' merry psychedelic cartoon Yellow Submarine - whatever he sees - SLURP - it's gone, vacuumed into nothingness. JCO does the same except when she SLURPS up something, in its place there appears another neat 600 page typescript. Joyce sees Marilyn - SLURP - "Blonde" - turns on the tv and clocks Jeffrey Dahmer - SLURP - "Zombie". I read a review once and the reviewer was imagining that inside the copy of his JCO novel there was a handwritten note which said STOP ME BEFORE I WRITE AGAIN.
Having said all that - is she any good? Well, alas for you authors who cough out one 200 page novel every ten years, the answer is yes, sometimes, but "We Were the Mulvaneys" isn't the one to convince anybody - that would be "What I Lived For" which is a stone masterpiece. This whopping Mulvaney book promises much and for the first 250 pages is compulsive, propulsive, and then like a toy balloon you blew up and tried to tie but your fingers fumbled and whoosshhhh it zaps away from you and spirals and biffs and thwaps into every wall and every corner of the room and finally peters out and dies into someone's cup of coffee, this novel just seems to get away from its author - she writes and writes and writes about the four Mulvaney kids and their two parents and in the end it was all very herkyjerky and exactly where JCO should have shone her fearless psychological searchlight was exactly where she appeared to shy away from - i.e.


the father's rejection of his beloved daughter after the daughter is raped - date-raped to be precise. Now why would he do such a thing? And why would his good Christian-hearted wife put up with him doing such a thing, and actually go along with it and not see her daughter when it broke her heart? JCO loves to get into her character's heads and does so very well, but here - right here at the sore spot of the whole book, the axis around which the fate of the family revolved, the point at which their ascent turns to descent - here is where she backs off, never an explanation of this central appalling cruelty. This may be very intentional but if so the intention was lost on me. And because of this, as I realised we were never going to explore this painful area, and that the novel, like its characters, was going to tippytoe away from it, I got mardy and disgruntled and I began not to care. When I got to the five page description of the final illness of Muffin the cat (a cat, not a cool person with catlike powers) my lack of gruntle was turning into outright mockery. Five pages about this cat's kidney problems and no pages about why the father can't stand to look at his daughter after she's raped. I think Joyce lost the plot.
Four stars for pages 1-250ish, two generous stars for pages 250ish to 454.
Profile Image for Ilenia Zodiaco.
266 reviews14k followers
December 24, 2022
"È stata solo una cosa che è successa. Le famiglie sono così a volte. Qualcosa va per il verso sbagliato e nessuno sa come rimediare e gli anni passano e...nessuno sa come rimediare".

Oates è una scrittrice scrupolosa, il grado di dettaglio raggiunto in questo romanzo lo dimostra e ne attesta la sapienza dello sguardo. Raccontando il destino dei Mulvaney, una famiglia numerosa e carismatica che negli anni 70 occupa una vivace fattoria a nord dello stato di New York, decide di descriverci le minuziosità della vita domestica: i soprannomi, i loro animali domestici, i piccoli rituali familiari, la grande casa. Ne fa un ritratto solido, mai idilliaco. Ci fa capire come la violenza colpisce persone normali, non speciali. La violenza colpisce tutti, è connaturata. E quando assesta il colpo, spaccando di fatto a metà la famiglia, lo fa con una precisione inquietante.

Oates è una scrittrice disturbante, che alterna il fiabesco e il mostruoso, che non ha paura di spiare negli angoli più nascosti delle soffitte e, anzi, è proprio lì che getta la sua luce. Non fa sconti, è financo crudele. Ma in questo romanzo non risparmia bellezza, felicità, tanto amore. I suoi romanzi hanno sempre una forte componente sociale fortissima ma in “una famiglia americana” sono le dinamiche familiari della cerchia più stretta dei Mulvaney che conquistano, le loro emozioni e i loro errori madornali.
Profile Image for Glenn Sumi.
404 reviews1,587 followers
June 2, 2016
Okay, I finally GET Joyce Carol Oates

Thanks to Goodreads, I stuck with this novel, one of the prolific Joyce Carol Oates’s best-known and –loved books. (Hey, it’s even Oprah Book Club-approved!) Some people on here said it picked up around the 100-page mark, and – wouldn’t you know it? – they were right.

I’m glad I listened to y’all. It takes a while for the book to find its way. So many character introductions! So many coy digressions! Do we really need to know about all the family nicknames and pets?! But once it gets going, it’s quite gripping, both plot-wise and psychologically.

The past tense in the title hints at the book’s outcome. In some ways it’s about the decline and fall of a once prosperous, well-loved upstate New York family. One event that happens on Valentine’s Day in 1976 affects each of the six Mulvaneys differently, and this book, narrated mostly by the youngest child, Judd, tells the sad, sad story.

I won’t reveal the event, although it’s hinted at early on and it’s easy enough to figure out. But it literally divides the family: from the community (there’s legal action, shunning), and perhaps more tragically, from themselves.

A father denies his favourite child, and the devout mother unquestioningly goes along with it; the other children react by leaving or messing up; careers and ambitions are thwarted; a plan to execute retribution is hatched, further dividing the family; and, as lives are ruined or put on hold and the scars of the past refuse to heal, nobody talks about “it” – the unmentionable “event.”

Oates is working on a large canvas here. There are several biblical and mythical allusions; and much of the book has the inexorable feel of a Greek Tragedy. The idea of Darwinian evolution is also a big theme. And the book can also be read, quite convincingly, as one of those Death of the American Dream novels. When institutions fail people, you're left with the family unit. The book mostly concerns the subtle interworkings of a large family, from the oft-repeated anecdotes that capture a family member’s character to its big secrets.

As one Mulvaney child says about his family late in the book, “It’s like things are in code and the key’s been lost.”

There are lots of passages that ring true if you’re part of a big(gish) family. Consider this:

They say the youngest kid of a family doesn’t remember himself very clearly because he has learned to rely on the memories of others, who are older and thus possess authority. Where his memory conflicts with theirs, it’s discarded as of little worth. What he believes to be his memory is more accurately described as a rag-bin of others’ memories, their overlapping testimonies of things that happened before he was born, mixed in with things that happened after his birth, including him.

Not all the prose is so insightful. This passage, for instance, cries out for tightening and clarity:

There were those times when the telephone rang, and she could not locate a phone amid the clutter. She rushed, she stumbled – for what if it was Michael Sr., her beloved husband of whom she thought, worried obsessively as the mother of an infant if physically parted from the infant thinks and worries obsessively of the infant even when her mind appears to be fully engaged, if not obsessed, with other matters.

I read that last run-on sentence four times before comprehending it. And in the same paragraph (!) we get:

During these mad dashes to the wall phone in the kitchen she hadn’t time to fall but with fantastical grace and dexterity wrenched herself upright in midfall and continued running (dogs whimpering, yapping hysterically in her wake, cats scattering wide-eyed and plume-tailed) before the telephone ceased its querulous ringing – though frequently she was greeted with nothing more than a derisive dial tone, in any case.

Are editors simply too intimidated by JCO’s output to suggest revisions?

The author also has an annoying habit of repeating phrases in italics, supposedly to suggest subconscious thoughts but too often feeling like a lazy shorthand saying, “Look, look, this is significant!”

Still, I don’t think you read Oates for the line-by-line beauty of her prose.

Late in the novel she gets deep inside the head of the book’s ruined, alcoholic patriarch, and it’s a terrifying, sad and completely convincing section, the best in the book. And when one of the most wounded characters finds herself in a sanctuary , the symbolism might seem obvious, but after 400 pages it feels earned.

A lesser writer would have offered up sentimentality, cheesy redemption monologues and copious tears. Oates is after something more complex, more textured, and ultimately more real.

We might think we know who the Mulvaneys are, but they can, like humans everywhere, still surprise us.
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews532 followers
December 11, 2017
Who doesn't desire his father's death?
Fyodor Dostoevsky

<<2.5 stars>>

I want to write a few words about this novel while it's fresh on my mind instead of moving it to the back of my review line.

A first point would be that Oates could have shown what she wanted to show--the disintegration of a seemingly typical family--in three-hundred pages instead of four-hundred and fifty plus.

Besides its verbosity, the chief problem I had with the novel was that Oates kept trying to make the point that the family's downfall was not due to "any one person's fault." It was no doubt set in motion by the date rape of the daughter by a guy who attended high school with her and one of her three brothers. Yet, to assign no fault to the parents defies reason and truth when the father turned out to be a pathetic jackass for his absolute indifference or at least reckless cruelty to his daughter and the mother a complicit rag-a-muffin, recklessly indifferent to her baby girl.

It was just too much for me to believe the dad's unexplained refusal to have anything to do with his daughter after the rape, and the mom's role in casting the daughter out into the world on dad's behalf, as if the rape was their daughter's fault. I didn't get any indication (despite how much Oates seems to go on and on and on) that the parents believed their daughter was not credible or that she was "asking for" the rape, no matter how illogical such a belief would be.

Daddy Mulvaney is eaten up by resentment, and certainly that isn't unrealistic, as the reader watches him become a cancer to the world around him, including to his family. Most men cannot deal with problems that they cannot fix. And, a high school daughter cannot be "fixed" from the harm she has suffered from a rape. When Daddy realizes this, he is consumed with rage at the boy who raped her, at the boy's family, at the law, at the members of his country club, at everyone.

Mom is Daddy's hick flop who shows no reservations or guilt or shame about the treatment of her daughter.

Last, I found it nearly absurd that a mother would treat household pets and farm animals better and as more important than her own children.

There are simply too many unexplained oddities for the novel to feel true to me.

I hate to say that this novel could lead one to agree with Dostoevsky's rhetorical.
Profile Image for Helene Jeppesen.
688 reviews3,627 followers
July 28, 2020
Sometimes, when reviewing a book, it's easier to explain the experience you had while reading it - so that's what I'm going to do with "We Were the Mulvaneys".
This is a family saga that spans over several years. At first, the dense language made me feel like there was a ditch between me and the story. I had to get used to the prose, and I did so surprisingly fast; however, I still noticed the dense language every time I picked up the book, and if I was tired and just wanted to read to relax, I had to convince myself to keep on reading.
Which means that while I was reading this novel, I didn't think that I was reading a 5-star book. That IS the case, however, now that I look back on it. Because "We Were the Mulvaneys" is simply too epic a tragic family story to not be a 5-star read. It's one of those books that I know will stay with me for months to come; especially because of the members of this family...
Rarely have I come across a set of characters that I was so engaged in as I was with the Mulvaneys. Michael Sr., Corinne, Mike Jr., Patrick, Marianne, Judd - their names are tattooed to my brain and I feel like I'm now part of their family because I've been following them so well. Especially Corinne turned into one of those fictional personnages that is and will rest very close to my heart. Furthermore, the long years that we get to follow them come with engaging anecdotes - and when those anecdotes are referenced back to several hundred pages later, you get the feeling that this is a JOURNEY (with capital letters) you've been on - I liked that feeling.
This is my review of "We Were the Mulvaneys". I haven't touched at all upon the plot; only on my feelings. I hope you can use this in some ways, because sometimes what you remember from a book is how you felt while you were reading it - not much of the actual plot itself (which I do remember vividly as well, but I want for YOU to experience it for yourself). Good luck, and say hi to the Mulvaneys from me when you encounter them!
Profile Image for Robin.
493 reviews2,723 followers
May 7, 2017
The Mulvaneys: Gold Medal Winners for Bad Parenting

I've read reviews by those who think this book is "what happens when a horrible event poisons a happy family" or something similar to that. Uh uh. Not quite. This book is all that, PLUS two ferociously bad parents, who stick to their ferociously bad parenting, and learn nothing, all through their journey.

(Forgive me if this review sounds catty, I'm still kinda pissed off.)

The Mulvaneys start off well. Michael Sr is so good looking his vivacious red-headed wife Corinne doesn't always know what he sees in her (aside: why must red-heads always be 'vivacious' or full of energy in some way?? There has GOT to be a lazy, or temperate red head out there in the world. A show of hands??). He starts a roofing business. They buy a farm. People like them. They have a few gorgeous sons, Michael Jr and Patrick, and then a daughter, Marianne, who they love more than anything. Oh and then Judd comes along later and it is he who is sort of telling this story. Sort of, because his narrative voice comes and goes - I was a little bit confused by this, actually.

They're a rowdy, loving bunch, all adorned with nicknames ("Curly", "Pinch", "Button", "Whistle" and the like) and accompanied always by a gaggle of animals.

Then, on prom night, something horrible happens to Marianne. And the sweet little life on the farm goes to shit. But it ain't because of what happened to Marianne. It's the sick-ass parenting of good-lookin Michael and feisty Corinne that screws everything up. I mean, they couldn't have reacted in a worse possible way. They ship off their victimized daughter, they exclude her and ignore her for YEARS, leaving her to fend for herself, to find a place of belonging somewhere else, because it sure as heck wasn't at home. Michael drinks; Corinne puts her red, spiritual head in the sand. And everyone around them gets screwed up, royally.

This is the first book I've read by Joyce Carol Oates. I overlooked the "Oprah's Pick" sticker and went for it. Maybe I should have trusted my initial instinct. Because not only is the plot rather off-putting, but this book is so much longer than it needed to be. There's so much unnecessary detailing, that I found my eyes sliding over entire paragraphs pertaining to one of the family cats' habits, or yet another romanticised memory of the family, pre-incident. I wasn't interested in the cats, and I wasn't interested in romanticising a family parented by these two numbskulls.

And, that's all I gotta say about that. ;)
Profile Image for Anna.
54 reviews6 followers
October 13, 2007
This book is about a large family, the Mulvaneys, living all happily and blahblahblah until something terrible happens to the sole daughter. Although the book is basically about this event and the aftermath, it takes about 100 pages to actually get to the plot. The beginning of the book goes on about the Mulvaneys and how wonderful they were, describing their house and its inhabitants with a little too much detail. Most chapters had this basic formula: Narraration of some memory a character had/an extensive description of what the Mulvaneys ate for breakfast or something + finally going back to the present in the last few paragraphs. I wanted desperately to give up reading this book and perhaps find something more fast paced, but after reading 100 or so pages to get to the plot, it would feel like I wasted all those days.

Despite the extensive explanations of the Mulvaney family, and what I thought were undeveloped characters (the narrarator, youngest sibling Judd, was always stressing how purehearted and "good-Christian" his sister Marianne was. Marianne was really a little too good and delicate and pure for a human being), the author's writing style was excellent. Unfortunately, the story line was not.

Profile Image for Ted.
515 reviews744 followers
January 30, 2018
Main Review. Warning. This review is almost a spoiler from one end to the other. I would recommend this spoiler not be read if you are considering reading this book for the first time, and particularly if you are ready to start reading quite soon (so you will have no time to forget much of what I relate in the spoiler).

The next section is REALLY a spoiler, since it tells how everything eventually turns out. Please be fore-warned.

And one more thing. (Some uninteresting literary comments.)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Previous review: Farewell to Cricket
Random review: Temporary Kings Dance to the Music ...
Next review: The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Previous library review: The Conquest Yxta Maya Murray
Next library review: The Things They Carried
Profile Image for Fabian.
956 reviews1,623 followers
May 11, 2020
4 Reasons "We Were the Mulvaneys" was one true deep disappointment:

1) I had already given J.C.O.s my full endorsement after reading "Zombie", a speedier version of "American Psycho" and "The Tattooed Girl", also a speedy version, this time of something long and droll by the likes of Roth. This is a sad disaster. I take everything I said about her back & now I realize why some people stopped being fans altogether.

2) Speaking of speed- this "family saga", which is more like some episode in a lame, average, overly-self-conscious family's life, and the aftereffects of said episode (which--can you believe it? are BAD) is unnecessarily l-o-o-o-n-g.

[Don't also:] Read: "The Little Friend" by Donna Tartt. This much time invested in something should reap benefits, no?

3) I am ashamed to be seen reading anything baring the "Oprah's Book Club" stamp, but I must say that I am never truly deeply disappointed by the selections. (Some do manage to achieve classic status.) Until now. (Is this the very reason the club dismantled and lost the cred????)

4) You read a book to reach its conclusion, and the author's brave effort to astound is plainly seen. This book is skimmed at the end, when J.C.O. seems to be thinking about her paycheck* alone and useless detail is piled upon nonsensical minutiae, so so much--you just f###ing want to finish the f###ing thing! (Excuse a reader's blatant frustration)

I guess I will be more careful with my selections from now on. Yes, I still consider J.C.O. an author (prolific--if anything) who truly grabs my attention. I'm a sucker for a story, and when it gets going not even a considerably awful hypothetical slap to the audience by a too-cocky, too-disappointing writer can make me stop reading it altogether.

Profile Image for Ana Cristina Lee.
662 reviews269 followers
January 17, 2022
Joyce Carol Oates nos ofrece un relato detallado de cómo una familia perfecta se precipita a los infiernos a raíz de un incidente de abusos sexuales. Es un tema frecuente en la literatura, de cómo el sueño americano puede convertirse en pesadilla a raíz de un imprevisto que altera el curso natural de las cosas y desata una serie de reacciones individuales y sociales que hacen que algunas personas – y especialmente las relaciones familiares – entren en una espiral destructiva.

En casi 600 páginas escritas sin prisa, demorándose en las descripciones de personas y ambientes, entramos en la vida de la familia Mulvaney – padre, madre, 3 hijos y una hija – con su vida idílica en la granja de High Point cerca de la pequeña población de Mt. Ephraim. El padre tiene un negocio y una posición social reconocida en la comunidad, para él es muy importante ser aceptado en el Country Club y otras asociaciones y ser respetado por las fuerzas vivas de la localidad. Su mujer, Corinne, es un personaje muy inusual, dedicada a su familia y a su pequeño negocio de antigüedades, con un punto de locura y excentricidad que no le impide ser una madre atenta y cariñosa. Los hijos son populares en la escuela y todo marcha sobre ruedas hasta que se produce un incidente de abusos que cambiará sus vidas para siempre.

Creo que la reflexión de la autora es si fue lo que pasó o más bien la reacción de los implicados lo que trajo tanto dolor. Hay también énfasis sobre el papel de la víctima y cómo es rechazada por la sociedad sin tener culpa alguna, de manera que el machismo se impone.

Junto con el drama familiar, esta novelaza (¡) viene a ser una ‘Comedia humana’ de los años 70 en la costa este de los USA, en la que se retratan diversos ambientes con movimientos y tendencias alternativos que se estaban desarrollando en aquel tiempo tan interesante. Hay una contraposición entre la sociedad rural y tradicional de Mount Ephraim y la cooperativa ecologista dirigida por Abelove - una especie de guru - o el refugio de animales también inspirado por una persona que quiere romper los límites estrechos de lo establecido.

Pero creo que el valor principal es que Joyce Carol Oates es una grandísima narradora, y lo que en manos de otro escritor habría resultado algo tocho, ella consigue que sea una lectura interesante y adictiva.

Su estilo nos ofrece continuos regalos, como cuando habla de las chicas populares en el instituto:

Sus sonrisas eran monedas de oro distribuidas descuidadamente en los corredores de la escuela, sus saludos – ‘Hola’ y ‘Qué tal!’ y ‘Cómo estás’ – eran melódicos como los gritos de las aves primaverales.

O cuando habla de la fugacidad de las cosas:

Extraño: que cuando una luz se apaga, inmediatamente después es como si nunca hubiera existido. La oscuridad lo llena todo de nuevo, por completo.

Al mismo tiempo que valora la familia, también es crítica con todo los aspectos negativos que puede comportar:

Nuestras vidas quedan definidas por los antojos, caprichos, crueldades de otros. Esa telaraña genética, los lazos de sangre. Era la más antigua maldición, más antigua que Dios. ‘¿Me aman?, ¿me quieren? ¿Quién me querrá, si no lo hacen mis padres?’.

En cuanto a la traducción, en general me ha parecido correcta, pero… hay cositas, cositas aquí y allá como:

…aquel apagado color pardo del abrigo (coat) invernal de los ciervos.
Yo diría que los ciervos no llevan abrigo, la traducción de ‘coat’ aquí tendría que ser ‘pelaje’. Y hay unas cuantas más, pero bueno, se deja leer.

Como síntesis de la historia – y de casi cualquier historia – tal como dice la autora:

¿qué palabras se pueden utilizar para resumir toda una vida, tan repleta de confusa felicidad interrumpida por aquel dolor absoluto en cámara lenta?
Profile Image for Sandra.
923 reviews264 followers
January 29, 2018
“Quali sono le parole giuste per riassumere una vita, tanta affollata confusa felicità che si conclude con un atroce dolore al rallentatore?” si domanda il narratore del romanzo. La Oates le ha trovate alla grande le parole, il fatto è che, secondo me, ha esagerato.
Un romanzo fiume, di circa 500 pagine, che inizia con la descrizione di una famiglia americana perfetta, i Mulvaney, una moglie e madre vivace ed allegra, un marito ambizioso e quattro splendidi figli, più una miriade di animali che vivono con loro nella fattoria color lilla nella campagna americana, a Mount Ephraim. Una famiglia benedetta da Dio, per alcuni, stucchevole per altri. Fino a quando la “affollata confusa felicità”non viene interrotta da “una cosa” che accade alla bella figlia adolescente, Marianne detta Germoglio nella notte di San Valentino del 1976. “Le famiglie sono così, a volte. Qualcosa va per il verso sbagliato e nessuno sa come rimediare e gli anni passano e … nessuno sa come rimediare.” Tutto va a rotoli, nessuno si salva e nessuna empatia scatta per alcuno dei protagonisti: sono tutti vittime di una cosa più grande di loro? Sono una famiglia perfetta solo all’apparenza ma in realtà sono tutti degli individui spietati e immaturi –per primi i genitori- incapaci di comunicare, incapaci di reagire al dolore che li dilania? Allora c’è che comincia a bere, chi scappa, chi si arruola nei marines, chi si camuffa per non vedersi più come era prima: ognuno si difende come può, in modo scomposto, distruggendo sé stesso e la famiglia.
Joyce Carol Oates ci descrive dettagliatamente i meccanismi che scattano in ciascuno dei Mulvaney in seguito all’incidente, ed è la parte più riuscita del romanzo, sebbene, come ho detto, sia troppo minuziosa fino all’eccesso. Il finale poi mi ha spiazzato, non ci ero preparata, visto quanto accaduto prima. E comunque non mi ha convinto.
Le stelle sono quattro, ma la Oates è pesante.
Profile Image for Patricija || book.duo.
585 reviews383 followers
September 12, 2022

Kokia skausmingai graži knyga. Viena tų, ilgų, kur kiekvieną veikėją pažįsti iš visokiausių pusių ir galiausiai kiekvieną savaip prisijaukini – netobulą, gal net visai nemielą, bet tiek pat artimą, kiek savos šeimos narys. Ir tiek pat po to, kai kartu 600 puslapių praleidai, mylimą ir saugomą. Jau seniai man nebuvo taip, kad net raidžių per ašaras nematyčiau – jei vietomis tik elegantiškai ritosi, tai į galą jau tiesiog kūkčiojau į megztinio atlapą. Čia tiek nesuvaidinto, tikro skausmo, be dramos vardan dramos, tiek daug buities, kuri patraukia paprastumu – kito autoriaus, ne tokio talentingo rankose, nesunku būtų nusukti į saldumą, susireikšminimą, tačiau šita knyga net neguli prie tų, kurias įprastai reklamuoja kaip „šeimos sagas“ – čia viena tų, kur bus vertinama kaip aukščiausio lygio klasika. Parašyta smulkmeniškai, elegantiškai, su milžiniška atida detalėms ir jausmams, visai jų amplitudei ne tik vienos šeimos, bet vieno miestelio, net vienos šalies kontekste.

Malveiniai aprėpia daugiau nei tik tuos šešis žmones, besidalinančius vienu stogu, o po to jau nebent vienu skausmu, viena pavarde – Oates perteikia to meto politinį, socialinį, net teisinį paveikslą. Detalių tirštame tekste ypač daug slypi ir tarp eilučių - per vieną skaitymą visko nesugaudysi. Retai kada taip nutinka, kad ilga knyga man neprailgsta. Bet čia tiesiog leidausi nešama istorijos, skaitant iki tobulumo nugludintą Oates tekstą, elegantiškai ir skoningai išverstą Ievos Sidaravičiūtės. Iki tol dviems skaitytoms JCO knygoms turėjau priekaištų, o prieš šitą tiesiog lenkiu galvą. Viskuo iki smulkmenų patikėjau, visus veikėjus savaip pamilau ir tikrai prie šitos knygos dar sugrįšiu – truputį mazochistiškai, truputį pavydžiai, puikiai suvokiant, kad kai kuriems – kalbu ir apie autorę, ir apie vertėją – buvo drebtelėta tiek talento.
Profile Image for Sammy.
207 reviews895 followers
August 22, 2007
By the end of this book I was crying. I just want to start with that and get it cleared out of the way. It wasn't just a sniff and the threat of tears, I had actual tears running down my face and snot streaming out of my nose. I was leaking enough that I actually had to put the book down and go grab some tissues.

This book is very emotional, not just with how it makes the reader feel, but with how it's written. There was something unique about Oates writing that reflected a purely emotional connection. The way sentences and phrases were repeated was reminescent of the speech of someone in a highly emotional state. It reminded me of when I am very angry or upset and am trying to convey something towards the source of my anger/sadness/passion and I feel the need to repeat what I find so important, even if it's really a minor issue. That was how Oates writing felt a lot of the times. It's probably why I found myself getting upset, frustrated, curious, or sad, because she wrote in a way to help push those emotions to the front.

Of course the subject matter really increased my emotions. The things this family went through and how they dealt with is enough to break your heart just hearing about it, let alone suddenly becoming very involved. All the characters are sympathetic, even Michael Sr., who is pretty easy to hate. Everyone we encounter is flawed and real and that makes you feel for them so much more. Of course the one you feel for the most is Marianne, the true victim in all of this. Yet, somehow she manages to move on with her life and become the strongest of all the Mulvaneys. She's filled with hope and love and the fact she maintains that after her rape and then the odd rejection of her family is truly amazing.

The last part of the book and the ending was very bittersweet. As much as you want to be happy you can't help feeling something is just not letting you achieve that. It's probably the same thing the Mulvaneys are feeling by the end. Somehow we've become the Mulvaneys by just a few chapters into the book, so truly whatever they're feeling, you're now feeling. That just got you all the more involved in the book, because of course you want to know everything that happens and why. It also makes the book that much harder to put down.

I've read Foxfire and want to reread it now, but I remember it's tone and style being extremely different from We Were the Mulvaneys. I haven't read any of Oates other works, though. Do they all vary from each other? Do they live up to the greatness of We Were the Mulvaneys? Should I try out her other works, or am I just destined to be disappointed after this book? I would love to hear your opinions on Oates other works as well as what you thought of We Were the Mulvaneys. Did y'all enjoy it as much as I did and have it affect you like it did me? Please share.

To sum it all up, I think the Los Angeles Times Book Review says it best: "Will break your heart, heal it, then break it again."
Profile Image for Kansas.
606 reviews290 followers
January 29, 2022
"-Vosotros, los Mulvaney. Irresistibles. Todos vosotros-".

Esta afirmación se podría decir que define perfectamente lo que suponía ser un Mulvaney, sobre todo en el primer tercio de la novela, justo hasta que ocurre la tragedia que lo desbarata todo. La familia Mulvaney formada por el padre y la madre, Mike y Corinne, y por sus cuatro hijos, viviendo en una granja idílica rodeados de animales, caballos, perros, gatos y por una naturaleza medio salvaje (los ciervos son un simbolo asociados con la brevedad del momento que aparecen en dos momentos cruciales de la novela), parecían ser el paradigma del sueño americano. Mike Mulvaney, un hombre hecho a sí mismo, exitoso empresario, y Corinne su siempre optimista esposa, un espiritú libre y ferviente creyente, construyen una especie de paraíso en la tierra en High Point Farm, una granja que es un lugar no solo idílico, sino perfecto para que crezcan unos niños. Son una familia respetada, sus hijos son populares y se podría considerar que nada sería capaz de desbaratar este paradigma de felicidad.

"A veces, las familias son así. Una cosa va mal y nadie sabe como arreglarla y pasan los años y...nadie sabe como arreglarlo".

Este paraiso en la tierra es destruido de la noche a la mañana cuando la hija adolescente, Marianne Mulvaney acude a un baile en el instituto un 14 de febrero de 1976 y es violada por otro de los hijos "populares" de una respetada familia de la zona. Los americanos llaman a este tipo de agresiones sexuales y/o violaciones "date rape" (violación en una cita), una definición apropiada en aquellos casos en los que el agresor generalmente hombre y conocido de la victima voluntariamente programa la agresión a menudo después de haber hecho beber más de la cuenta a su pareja de la cita, la victima luego duda de si ha mantenido estas relaciones sexuales y no lo recuerda bien. Además que el entorno donde se suelen dar estas agresiones en la mayoría de los casos es en Institutos y campus universitarios entre edades desde la adolescencia hasta los veintitantos años. Y doy estos datos porque no es la primera vez que Joyce Carol Oates se ocupa de estos temas, siempre ha estado muy sensibilizada en las adolescentes agredidas y victimas de la violencia.

"Es un alivio no tener que preocuparte por donde estás. Todo ese orgullo que teníamos, en casa, y esa ansiedad. Llevando una especie de...no sé...vida familiar modélica".

Esta agresión sufrida por Marianne, la hija perfecta y adorada por el resto de su familia, sienta las bases de lo que será la novela. A partir de este momento, habrá un antes y un después en el comportamiento de cada uno de los miembros de la familia con respecto a Marianne y aunque a veces nos parezcan injustos ciertos comportamientos, y no entendamos algunas decisiones tomadas sobre todo por los padres, nada es gratuito aqui, y JCO nos ha dado ya todas las premisas, todas las pistas que marcan estos comportamientos. La Oates no da puntada sin hilo.

"Nadie podía mencionar lo que había ocurrido, ni deseaba mencionarlo: violación era una palabra que no se mencionaba en High Point Farm. ¿Cuáles eran las palabras que se pronunciaban? Recuerdo abusos, agresión, aprovecharse de..., daño. Esas eran las palabras que yo oía, por casualidad o no, aunque no se expresaban abiertamente".

Es una experiencia muy inmersiva leer esta novela, por lo menos en mi caso lo ha sido, porque a raíz de la tragedia que se desencadena esa noche del 14 de febrero, Joyce Carol Oates consigue que reacciones como lector y que te preocupen esos personajes, sobre todo los hijos Mulvaney, que casi sin darse cuenta, empiezan a conocer de verdad a sus padres y ese entorno que hasta entonces les había parecido tan idílico. De la noche a la mañana el sueño americano es destrozado y tienen que empezar a gestionar el Porqué de este cambio en su vida familiar, un cambio que les viene dado tanto desde dentro de la familia (esas decisiones injustas tomadas por sus padres) como desde el entorno y la ciudad donde viven, donde las miradas y los comportamientos hacia ellos cambian también de la noche a la mañana. Lo que es tan difícil que un autor pueda conseguir y es el hecho de que el lector se preocupe por sus personajes, aquí esta autora lo consigue sin ninguna duda. Momentos de crueldad emocional, momentos en los que los hijos se encuentran indefensos y momentos en que la vulnerabilidad tanto de los padres como de los hijos frente a una sociedad interesada y partidista, convierten esta novela también en un discurso muy crítico con respecto a la sociedad en la que vivimos porque aqui la autora aborda temas universales como es el elitismo de ciertas clases sociales, la libertad del individuo y la búsqueda de su propia identidad, y sobre todo la naturaleza. Pocas veces he leido a la Oates explayarse tanto y tan largamente con pasajes que exaltan su amor por la naturaleza y sobre todo por los animales: hay muchas páginas dedicadas a ellos, a los animales de la familia, a los gatos, quizás en un intento por compararlos a las personas. Hay un momento en que algún personaje revela que ver envejecer a nuestros animales es casi una visión acelerada de nuestro propio envejecimiento futuro. Gloriosa, Joyce Carol Oates.

"En ocasiones lloraba, incluso después de tantos meses (¿Cuántos? Era mejor no contarlos), más de lo que era saludable. Llorar no es nada más que una indulgencia infantil, llorar es sobre todo lástima de uno mismo, Marianne lo sabía" (...) Sin embargo, no fue tan divertido una mañana de enero en que el termómetro exterior en la ventana de la cocina se mantuvo a diecisiete bajo cero, y los regueros de lágrimas se congelaron en las pálidas mejillas de Marianne, (...) Pero asi era, las lágrimas que ella creía secretas, se habían convertido en hielo para que todos las vieran".

Una de las virtudes del estilo de Joyce Carol Oates en mi opinión es que deja muchos detalles del argumento, y de algunas situaciones a la imaginación del lector. Te presenta los hechos, te da los datos, pero se vuelve ambigua a la hora de explicarlo todo taxativamente, de esta manera, consigue que el lector se comprometa con los personajes y que desarrolle en su imaginación lo que ella te ha dejado intuir. Puedes adorar u odiar a ciertos personajes, sus decisiones, pero realmente consigue que lector participe activa y emocionalmente en el desarrollo de la historia. Al final esta novela no es más que la narración por parte de Joyce Carol de la historia de una familia, la construye y la desconstruye paso a paso para que la conozcamos, sin juzgarlos, pero a través de su infelicidad y de muchos de sus momentos emocionalmente muy fuertes, consigue transmitirnos lo dificil que es sobrevivir a los palos de la vida.

"Al fin y al cabo, ¿qué es una familia sino recuerdos?".

Profile Image for Kinga.
479 reviews2,252 followers
February 6, 2022
One thing for sure – Oates can write. Her Twitter antics might convince you she is not a serious writer, but she is.

We Were The Mulvaneys is a juicy novel with quite a selection of antiheroes that creep up on you slowly, and you’re not sure when exactly you started hating them.

The Mulvaneys are the golden family which gets undone by their own misogyny, bigotry and weakness of character. The biggest asshat, of course, is the father, who believes that the offense done to his daughter was done to him really by proxy. It was an attack on him, something was taken away from him. The community whose respect he tried to earn so hard committed the ultimate act betrayal and disrespect. Like so many backwards fathers, he thinks his daughter’s virginity belongs to him. So any crime committed against her is actually committed against him and his property. The father’s unhealthy obsession with female virginity can be noticed very early on, when he is courting his future wife.

The novel is so psychologically intricate – Oates documents all the little things, the minute failures in communication that build up until everything reaches the point of no return. I particularly enjoyed the description of how the family communicates through their pets in a way of avoiding having difficult conversations. The daughter’s only act of rebellion noted was this one time when she broke from this established form of communication and snapped at her mother. It was such a small thing, but it left ripples. As a person with an easy access to her store of anger and rage, I found the mother’s and daughter’s inability to get angry perplexing and frustrating, but possibly, understandable in its context.

It was also interesting how the whole family, the parents especially, believed their own hype of being this picture perfect unit, the embodiment of the American dream, whereas to this reader they didn’t seem that special to begin with, therefore their downfall wasn’t as surprising as it was to them. When the reality started contradicting their own image they built in their heads, well, that’s too bad for reality. We never actually see the family through any outsider’s eyes, so we have no idea if their opinion of themselves is shared by their neighbours or if it’s just some group delusion.

The book is written from the POV of Judd, the youngest child of the Mulvaneys. This narrator occasionally becomes omniscient, he remembers things he wasn’t around for. This structure might sound messy, but was in fact very intricate, ellipting the main event, which nonetheless overshadows the whole story to the end.
Profile Image for Clare.
47 reviews18 followers
August 16, 2007
I really needed Joyce Carol Oates to give me a break on this one. I was still reeling from the horrible experience I had of accidentally reading part of "Zombie" but I was prepared to try to forgive her. But even though no one in this book gave anyone else an ice-pick lobotomy, it was entirely devoid of any heart, hope, or mercy. I just don't need this in my life - there's nothing about this book stylistically that elevates it above its oppressively miserable story.
Profile Image for Stepheny.
381 reviews546 followers
December 16, 2014
Warning! Warning! Potential spoilers contained in this rant-filled review!

We Were the Mulvaneys is probably JCO’s most known novel. I can’t for the life of me understand why. I will be the first to tell you what a JCO enthusiast I am, yet before reading this I had never read a single novel of hers. I had read and loved her short stories as if they were written for my eyes only and I cherished them as such. I still do…more so now after having read this book.

This book is….something.

I guess a lot can be said about a novel that makes you feel such strong emotions on such a varying range. I felt a lot of anger while reading this. So much so that I found myself clenching my hands so tightly that my knuckles were turning white. I was also scowling a lot which is going to age me some day. I find I scowl when I’m concentrating in general so angry scowling on top of normal scowling is not good for me.

This book is about a family- The Mulvaneys. They are a good family; a well-known family in their country home in upstate NY. These family members have names but to be honest with you each one is referred to by about 4 different names and there is such a long introduction to all of them individually that I couldn’t be bothered to actually pay attention to it. There’s a mom, a dad, a few brothers and a sweet darling sister whose innocence is taken from her in one of the worst ways one could ever imagine.

The family reacts to this “situation” in a way that is flat out appalling. Growing up in the family that I did I find this so unacceptable that I almost stopped reading it. In fact, I wanted to drive until I found the Mulvaney farm and go on a rampage that would either result in murder or a severe talking to with this family. Certainly if I had ever been a victim my father would not have ever blamed me, or begrudged me for soiling the family name. Instead he would have done everything in his power to see that there was justice and that I received the help that I needed to cope with what had been done to me. Yes, I feel confident enough in my family to know that he would have done this even in 1970. The time of the event is relevant, yes, but the point is the problem lies with the father. It is a character flaw. Victim blaming is a real thing and it happens every single day.

The fact that Mrs. Mulvaney puts up with her jackass of a husband and his outrageous behavior where he essentially shuns his daughter is so completely baffling to me. Once again this is because of my upbringing. My mother is one of the strongest willed women you could ever meet. I’m fairly certain that if there were a Mama Bear protecting her cub and my mother protecting me and you had to choose between which one to fight you would choose the bear every time. Hell hath no fury like my mother protecting one of her children.

There was a point in this book where I was actually hoping to see a teenager kill another young man. I was literally grinding my teeth in agitation wishing he would pull that trigger and knowing he wouldn’t do it. I don’t normally encourage murder but in this case I felt it justified.

Button, our sweet innocent victim in this story, shows no personal growth because she doesn’t understand that what has been done to her is wrong. She doesn’t seem to get that the initial act that causes all of this is wrong and she doesn’t understand that her father’s reaction is wrong. She just goes about her life thinking this is just the way things are and she never seeks help for the emotional damage that is so evident to the readers.

The end of this story infuriated me more than anything. Why would you ever give that man the satisfaction of going to see him on his death bed? He single-handedly destroyed your family because he was too goddamn proud to face what happened. He outcasts you, moves you away from your family and doesn’t talk to you for what- 20 fucking years?! And you still go crawling to his bedside like a good and obedient little child?! Of course you do because you don’t know any better and it’s making me angry for completely different reasons! I’m mad because you should have been helped! You should have been hugged and loved and told that it was not your fault. And now here I am blaming you for the lack of compassion done to you by your own family.

JCO is kind of known for making you stop and really think about the world and what goes on around you. These things happen in life. There are tragedies. There is death. There is rape. There is cruel behavior. All it takes is one person doing the right thing. I applaud JCO for making me feel these things. It’s a sign of a great writer. HOWEVER, the subject content was just too overwhelming for me to rate it high. It was such a grueling read. I didn’t enjoy this book. It was written fine- of course!-it’s JCO after all. But it affected me too personally for me to ever love this book or to ever recommend it. I feel bad that I selected this book for my group read. (Sorry girls!!) BUT, it did spark some really excellent discussions.
Profile Image for Therese.
332 reviews15 followers
December 26, 2020
I asked one of my friends to recommend a good book to close out the year, and this is what she suggested. And just...wow! This was a superb read. The writing was impeccable and the story was riveting. I’ve always wanted to read something by Joyce Carol Oates, and I’m so glad to be able to say I finally did.

The story is about a family living on a farm on the outskirts of a small New York town, mid-1970’s. The writing immediately insinuates you into the Mulvaney family, their history, the place they now live, friends and neighbors, what their lives are like, family dynamics, quirks. You feel like you know them, and they seem cool, likable. Until the day their seventeen year old daughter is raped at a school dance. From that point on, we witness the family’s complete implosion, with each character dealing with “it” in their own way, going completely off the rails into a downward spiral that lasts for years. It’s gratifying to see that there is some closure and redemption by the end, but you’ll have to read for yourself to see exactly what that is and how they all got there, and that’s a heartbreaking ride.

Rape is a difficult subject, and a book with this subject at its core may not be for every reader. But if you’re looking for something with great writing and an in-depth examination of character and motivation, you might find this one hard to put down.
Profile Image for Come Musica.
1,610 reviews415 followers
February 21, 2023
I Mulvaney, una famiglia americana degli anni sessanta/settanta: una famiglia numerosa, quattro figli, due genitori molto innamorati, una tenuta. Felicità e prosperità erano il loro marchio distintivo.

“Eravamo i Mulvaney, vi ricordate di noi?

Forse pensavate che la nostra famiglia fosse più grande. Ho incontrato spesso persone convinte che noi Mulvaney fossimo virtualmente un clan, ma in realtà eravamo solo sei: mio padre, che era Michael John Mulvaney Sr., mia madre Corinne, i miei fratelli Mike Jr. e Patrick e mia sorella Marianne, e io, Judd.”

Fino a quando Marianne non fu stuprata.
Attorno a questo tragico evento la famiglia si sgretola e perde la propria unione.

Non sapranno più riconquistare la propria identità. Ci proveranno più e più volte, senza però riuscirci. Perché non avranno il coraggio di scoperchiare il tetto della casa in cui chiudono i propri segreti.

“Marianne leggeva avidamente Charlotte Brontë. Non solo l’obbligatorio Jane Eyre che aveva già letto al liceo, che amava e la faceva piangere, ma anche Villette: che eroina inattesa, l’appassionatamente casta Lucy Snowe. E un’antologia delle lettere di Charlotte Brontë. Da cui copiò:

Dall’oscurità sono uscita, all’oscurità posso facilmente tornare.”

Ogni membro della famiglia cercherà di farsi giustizia

«Dopo che me ne sono andato quel giorno, quella domenica di Pasqua, ricordi? Mi sono svuotato. Il veleno che avevo nel sangue è colato fuori. Come fossi stato malato, infetto, e non me ne fossi accorto finché il veleno è scomparso. Però non rimpiango nulla. Penso che la vendetta debba essere bella. I greci lo sapevano. Sangue chiama sangue. Credo che l’istinto della “giustizia” sia innato, presente nei nostri geni. Il bisogno di ristabilire l’equilibrio.»

Joyce Carol Oates frantuma le certezze del mondo borghese. Va al cuore delle relazioni per dimostrare che non esistono le famiglie perfette. Esistono le persone con i loro errori e le loro qualità. Esistono i legami che durano.

“Lascio me stesso alla terra per nascere dall’erba che amo,
Se ancora mi vuoi cercami sotto le suole delle scarpe.

Difficilmente saprai chi io sia o che cosa significhi,
E tuttavia sarò per te salutare,
E filtrerò e darò forza al tuo sangue.

Se non mi trovi subito non scoraggiarti,
Se non mi trovi in un posto cerca in un altro,
Da qualche parte starò fermo ad aspettare te.

Walt Whitman ~ Canto di me stesso

Immensa Joyce Carol Oates.
P.S. Ci sono tanti echi di Philip Roth in questo romanzo. In particolare, di Pastorale Americana.
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,490 reviews2,712 followers
May 20, 2019
It's the way families are, sometimes. A thing goes wrong and no-one knows how to fix it and years pass and - no-one knows how to fix it.

** Spoilers below **

So, I've seen reviews which don't like this book because the parents don't act the way readers want, or expect them to: but y'know, that's precisely why I like JCO - she doesn't pander to society's myths about what idealised maternity or paternity should look like. As much as we might want our parents to be all-knowing and all-loving, the barest glimpse at any newspaper will, surely, undermine that ideal. Cruel things happen in families - sometimes deliberately, sometimes, as here, unintentionally.

A father faced with his own shaming powerlessness of which his innocent daughter becomes the unwitting living reminder, a mother torn between her spouse and her child... these are the building blocks of tragedy here. JCO doesn't blame, doesn't judge - we can, if we choose, but perhaps we get more out of the book by understanding emotional positions that we might not share. Is that not one of the reasons we read, to experience life through someone else's eyes?

When I started this book I thought it was going to be about one thing and was slightly impatient that there was so much other stuff - until I realised that 'it' might be a catalyst but that really the focus of the book is the imperfect dynamics of the family itself, the way it tears itself apart before partially putting itself tentatively back together again. That 'were' in the title is both a past tense and a continuous present.
Profile Image for Nood-Lesse.
330 reviews172 followers
December 22, 2017
L’orgoglio precede la caduta

Abbandonatevi a J.C. Oates, lasciate vi porti a spasso dagli anni ‘30 agli ’80 e che decida lei quando fare un’anticipazione, indugiare su una descrizione o sulla genesi di un soprannome. Fidatevi, chiudete gli occhi e vedrete i vostri genitori, i vostri fratelli... La famiglia è il nastro di Moebius della società, la sua superficie è infinitamente percorribile.
Bel romanzo, ci sono stati momenti di coinvolgimento estremo:
“Puoi avere un solo figlio miracoloso. Se sei fortunato. Però molta gente non lo è. (Quindi non dovete gongolare, è ovvio)
e altri in cui mi stupivo che la voce narrante maschile appartenesse in realtà a una donna, tanto era verosimile. Lo Oates è brava con le sue inquadrature in campo lungo, da fuori, ma soprattutto in quelle da dentro. I quattro figli diventano Mulo, Pizzicotto, Germoglio e Fossette. Riti, manie, debolezze e lessico, finiranno per farvi sentire uno di loro, non li dimenticherete.

Come colonna sonora scelgo: Sweet - Love is like Oxygen

Profile Image for Jason.
114 reviews626 followers
May 14, 2010
Confession. I have a peculiar interest in stories that most people consider depressing. I like to observe how people fail. I enjoy watching an author destroy families. Poor decisions, personal flaws, bad luck, awful timing--I don't care what causes it, just as long as the characters unravel, sucking faster clockwise down the toilet. Let me be clear: in real life I don't wish bad things to happen. But, there's a lot of human suffering in the world, and I find that subject more interesting than fiction with an inspirational tone or an uplifting message. I must have morbid chromosomal base pairs that make me intrigued with hidden, lurid details about a character's devolution to the bottom.

I've experienced a rather peaceful, profitable, humble, healthy, nuclear life. My stock has had a slow but interminable rise through 40 years, with the normal distressing whipsaws that are naturally smoothed over time. I've not had a sustained depression or streak of bad luck that was ever intractable. I've never been addicted, obsessed, exploited, abused, or criminal. I've never had a malignancy. Perhaps it's from this 'normal' life I like to experience vicariously the 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.' I don't read these depressing novels with any air of conceit or swagger. I just want to know how life could otherwise be.

And yet, that doesn't explain my peculiar interest. There's something more. There's something more engaging about a tragic story than a hopeful one; something that demands attention. Something that makes you stare more intensely at a street riot than a street party; an old man crying than an old man laughing; scandal than good news; self-destruction than self-improvement. This also explains my attraction to the Realists and Naturalists, writers like Theodore Dreiser, John Steinbeck, Frank Norris, William Dean Howells, and the absolute genius of Emile Zola. These authors grind their characters into chaff and seed. Zola abuses, lacerates, addicts, crushes, masticates, and annihilates his characters; he brings hellfire. Joyce Carol Oates gets in the vicinity of that fire.

We Were the Mulvaneys is a book that moves over the unwinding and dissolution of a family like a discriminating hand over braille. Joyce Carol Oates introduces a 6 member family at their peak. Maybe even she introduces them past their zenith and onto the shallow downwind slope of the bell curve. Perhaps the Mulvaneys have never been better than 10-15 pages before the start of the book. That halcyon moment, unwritten, scintillating, which existed just before you started reading. The family tears itself apart over the next 430 pages. Oates orchestrates this family tragedy from a single, brutal incident. She captures the realism of how this incident reverberates to the rest of the family. There's a natural rhythm and a wholly believable anastomosis of decisions that are set forth, irrevocably patterned before each family member. They all make the worst decisions, the most defeating choices.

If you don't like chapter after chapter of hate, fear, guilt, anger, impotence, rot, and self-immolation, then you will score this book lower than 3 stars. If you're like me, and want to snoop on these human conditions, you'll have to score at least 3--if not more--stars. I added a fourth star because, although I found no absolutely unforgettable lines to quote, Mrs. Joyce writes well and injects several brilliant metaphors, and the book, overall, steadily engages the reader. The characters, and their actions, are believable. However, like an afterclap, she tarnishes for me the whole book with an unnecessary 21 page epilogue that, down to the last sentence, repudiates the theme of self-destruction she's worked to achieve in 430 pages. Suddenly and out of all character to the rest of the book, the remaining family members become a happy, loving family with a healthy, productive future. It's as if Oates didn't have the gonads to leave her characters crushed and destitute. Instead, she rushed a happy ending that redeems the human condition.

Otherwise she has a tendency to repeat verbs three times in a row, ostensibly to achieve a certain story-telling effect, but it becomes overworked by the fifteenth time she uses it. Good character development (if the Mulvaneys leave you enraged with what appears spineless and idiotic behavior, then Oates has done her job--she's faithfully represented the spineless and idiotic behavior in your communities all around you--open you eyes). This is not a tour de force or an epic; that would require 250 more pages and a little better writing. I recommend this Oprah (...meh) Book Club selection.

New words: cloche, jodhpurs, chignon

1 review
December 15, 2011
First an admission of how I read this book. I happened to find it in a thrift store for 99 cents, and I read it daily on my bus trip to and from work. Reading it daily, but only a few pages at a time may or may not have colored the way I view it.

If you are looking for a quick read, full of action, plot and intrigue, this is not the book for you.

But if you are looking for a writer at the top of her game, taking the time to set her story in intricate, though necessary, settings of place, plot, character and backstory, then by all means take the journey Joyce Carol Oates is inviting you to take.

I have read others say that Oates spends too much time on minutae, the definition of which is certainly in the eye of the beholder, that she should have gotten on with the story. I disagree. Every story that she tells, every detail that she describes about High Point Farm, the animals, the smells, is essential to a full understanding of the story that follows. Reading this to pass the time as the bus rolled along, I found myself in the middle of the world she so vividly describes, and less concerned that she was wasting my precious time.

This is also a novel that can be read on many levels. Certainly it is the story of the deterioration of an American family, but it is also the story of how difficult it is to break the bonds of love once forged. It is also a story of the fragility of self-esteem solely based on how others view us, which, of course, can turn on a dime, with underscoring threads of the fundamental coldness of nature itself and the inevitibility of death. These themes are interwoven with the philosophies of Christianity, Darwinism, and the age of reason that in Oates' skilled hands seem not to compete with each other so much as to cooperate, and perhaps even complement.

If you are also looking for a book with easily identifiable heroes and villans to relate to, cheer for and boo and hiss at, then again, this is not a book for you. The characters Oates' draws are human, with all their flaws and weaknesses. Every single one of them is unpredictable, at time unfathomable, at times loveable, and at time detestable. Just like life itself.

And like life itself, there are no easy answers.

This will be a book I will find impossible to forget for quite some time, if ever.
Profile Image for Gabrielė || book.duo.
234 reviews266 followers
January 9, 2023
Neabejotinai vienas iš tų didžiųjų romanų, kurį vos pradėjusi jaučiau, kad laukia ilga, nelengva, daug kliūčių, sunkumų ir iššūkių slepianti kelionė. Tačiau tokios kelionės dažniausiai išmoko apie save daugiausiai ir lieka su tavimi ilgiausiai. Joyce Carol Oates klampi proza neleidžia atsipalaiduoti ir priverčia skaityti įsidėmint kiekvieną detalę, sustojant prie kartais pačios mažiausios smulkmenos, klausinėjant savęs tiek klausimų dėl veikėjų motyvacijos, tiek dėl autorės pasirinkimo tam tikrus dalykus atskleisti. Autorė kelionės nepalengvina, bet tikriausiai būtent todėl man ji ir patenka į mėgstamiausių sąrašus – čia skaitytojas yra lygiavertis autoriui, jam leidžiama sėstis šalia, o ne ant galinės sėdynės, ir viską patirti iš arti. Ir tai ne visada malonu.

Malveiniai nuo pat kūrinio pradžios piešiami kaip mano įsivaizdavimą atitinkanti tradicinė amerikiečių šeima. Didelė, garsi, turinti kartais keistų tradicijų, ir net jei ne visada tobulai sutarianti, kažkokiu būdu vis viena labai vieninga. Pasakodama apie šios iš pirmo žvilgsnio tvirtos kaip kumštis šeimos byrėjimą autorė yra labai rūpestinga su kiekvienu jos nariu – iki smulkiausių kaulelių išnarstome visus, ir būtent todėl ta šeima skaitytojui tampa tokia brangi. Jie – tai žmonės, kuriuos pažįsti, jie – kartais tavo paties atspindys, net jei iš pradžių gali pasirodyti be galo tolimi, atskirti vandenyno, kito laikotarpio ir visiškai skirtingos aplinkos. Tačiau žmogiškos patirtys yra universalios, o čia jų pilna. Ir dažniausiai jos skaudžios, tokios, nuo kurių norėtųsi nusisukti, į kurias mieliau nežiūrėtum. Bet būtent to pasekmes šis kūrinys ir meistriškai narsto, o skaitytojas paliekamas tvarkytis su krūva emocijų, kurias tai palieka.

Lietuviškai šis romanas suskamba nuostabiai, ir visa tai dėka vertėjos Ievos Sidaravičiūtės. Skaitydama negalėjau atsistebėti, kiek į tekstą įdėta meilės, pastangų ir tos tik Ievai būdingos magijos, kurią atrandu kaskart skaitydama jos vertimus. Niekas negalėjo geriau pasirūpinti šiuo didžiu romanu ir žinau, kad būtent lietuviškas vertimas prisidėjo prie to, kad kūriniu taip mėgavausi. Išsiilgusiems tikro, sodraus, klampaus ir tų kartais nepageidaujamų emocijų nevengiančio romano – Malveiniai laukia jūsų. Nenusivilsit.
Profile Image for Bren.
821 reviews129 followers
March 25, 2020
He querido leer este libro desde hace años, cualquiera que me conozca sabe lo mucho que lo busqué por todos lados, incluso en librerías en Estados Unidos, por algún motivo su edición había sido descontinuada y se habían retirado todas las copias disponibles de librerías.

Por fin lo puedo tener en mis manos y he podido darme el enorme gusto de leerlo, no solo ha cubierto mis expectativas, las ha superado, no me ha defraudado.

Cuando leí hace algún tiempo el Libro de los Baltimore de Joël Dicker, alguien comentó que era un tipo remake de este libro, bueno, es verdad que tienen su punto de coincidencia, creo que sobre todo en el estilo literario escogido por ambos autores y que cuentan la historia de una familia, por lo demás, bueno, no puedo compararlos.

Ya había leído a Joyce Carol Oates antes, así que si, conocía su enorme calidad literaria, pero por sobre cualquier tema técnico que se pueda decir de su estilo narrativo, hay algo que la caracteriza y es su gran y tremenda capacidad para transmitir, es apabullante leer cualquier cosa que ella escriba porque indudablemente te enfrentarás a sentir cada cosa que cuenta y muchas veces no son cosas agradables, sin embargo en mi caso particular me encanta encontrarme con libros que me muevan la fibra, que me lleguen.

Este libro está contado en mi primera persona por el hijo pequeño de los Mulvaney, Judd quien nos va narrando toda la historia del gran declive de esta preciosa y perfecta familia americana.

No voy a decir o a comentar nada sobre la historia porque de verdad es algo que vale la pena conocer y lo que en ella se desvela es tremendo, leerlo sin saber nada es algo que hay que vivir.

Solo decir que es un impresionante libro, en historia, en narrativa y por sobre cualquier otra cosa, en hacer que se te mueva desde la punta de los pies hasta el último de los cabellos.

Con esta autora siempre termino preguntándome ¿cómo le hace para sentarse a escribir en primera persona cosas como estas?

Un libro absoluta, completa y totalmente recomendable, un libro que tiene una reputación completamente ganada.
Profile Image for Jenna.
249 reviews77 followers
December 29, 2017
I was just nearly through writing a review of this, and Goodreads crashed and I lost it! We Were a Review of We Were the Mulvaneys. :-(
108 reviews2 followers
May 14, 2008
This book made me furious. I'm temporarily living in Princeton, and I told my housemate I'd like to track down JCO and throw it on her lawn.

After 400 pages of unremitting misery, suddenly everything turns sunny again and there's a happy ending. Jeez...I think the term for this is "deus ex machina." The "machina(s)" ("machinae") for these five main characters were:
1. bidding on items at auctions
2. a motorcyle
3. a drunk's last request
4. unclear
5. the Marine Corps

The Chicago Tribune characterized this book as demonstrating something along the lines of "the abiding ties of love," or some such crap.

Give me a break.

Confidential to Joyce Carol Oates: enough with the exclamation points to show that a character is excited or enthusiastic or whatever.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Martinis.
235 reviews58 followers
August 8, 2022
Molte cose avevano nomi in codice a High Point Farm. Come i nostri nomi, che potevano creare una certa confusione perché dipendevano da stati d’animo, circostanze, sottointesi.

Famiglia. Bellissimo.
Profile Image for Marco Tamborrino.
Author 5 books177 followers
February 8, 2012
Ci fu un momento di silenzio tra noi. Capivo che non dovevo parlare, dire una parola. Come avessimo vissuto così, a nostro agio l'uno con l'altro, per i quattordici anni in cui ci eravamo persi.

We were the Mulvaneys è la storia della società americana che caratterizzava una certa epoca, ma prima ancora è la storia di una famiglia perfetta che subisce un colpo, la perfezione s'incrina, tocca terra, e poi si spezza. E cosa succede a una famiglia perfetta che si spezza? Tenta di ricomporsi? Può ricomporsi? Come? Andando ognuno per la propria strada. Faticando, piangendo, diventando se stessi e non la proiezione nella realtà di immagini mentali. È la storia straziante del disfacimento di una bellissima famiglia, dei motivi sociali che portano a tale disfacimento e della forza necessaria per ricostruire, per andare avanti.

È superfluo dire che questo romanzo mi è piaciuto tantissimo. Un po' meno superfluo dire che mi ha fatto piangere. Se un libro mi fa piangere è quasi sempre per due motivi: o i personaggi sono delineati benissimo, o il libro è scritto talmente bene da commuovere. Qui siamo nel primo caso pur non escludendo la scrittura fluida e ricca della Oates, una scrittura molto americana che mi ricorda parecchio Irving. I personaggi di questo libro mi sono entrati dentro. I personaggi di questo romanzo sono il romanzo. Ognuno ha un punto di vista assai differente; notevole soprattutto la religiosità molto radicata in alcuni personaggi e la totale assenza di essa in altri di loro.

Da cosa parte il disgregarsi dei Mulvaney? È un incidente, un "semplice incidente". Basta uno stupro, un po' di alcool, un po' di purezza di cuore a causa di Gesù, ed ecco che la società esclude questa famiglia, la bandisce dalla vita normale. Diventano come reietti, come degli esclusi. Non sono portatori di una malattia mortale. Sono persone normali il cui equilibrio familiare è stato turbato, sono incapaci di reagire perché fino a quel momento andava tutto bene e adesso la gente sembra far finta che non ci siano.

"La vita è cane che mangia cane, perché non ammetterlo? Lo avevano privato dell'attività che aveva impiegato una vita a costruire, gli avevano preso la casa-fattoria, la famiglia. Lo avevano succhiato e buttato come un guscio vuoto. I suoi nemici avevano fatto quadrato contro di lui, lo avevano portato alla rovina.
Beati i miti, beati i puri di cuore. Poveri cristiani talmente illusi che ti vien voglia di ridergli in faccia. Porgere l'altra guancia? Ti bastonano."

Colui che soffre più di tutti le conseguenze dell'incidente è il padre di famiglia, Michael Mulvaney Sr., che tanto amava Marianne, che tanto amava la sua figlia perfetta, così tanto da non ritenersene degno. E chi permette più di tutti che avvenga la distruzione della famiglia? Sempre lui. Più ha amato, più ha perso. È giusto che le sofferenze umane siano così mal distribuite?

C'è invece chi vuole vendicarsi.
"Non abbiamo avuto giustizia legale. Non ci è stato possibile. Papà ha tentato e ha fallito. Perché il sistema della giustizia legale è solo un'istituzione sociale, ed è inadeguato come espressione della morale. Il modo di procedere della "giustizia legale" è rivolgersi a una terza parte che sta al di sopra di "vittima" e "colpevole" e delle rispettive famiglie, una parte sanzionata dal popolo. Dallo stato. È lo stato ad amministrare la giustizia. Ma cos'è lo stato? Solo un insieme di persone. Esemplari di Homo sapiens. E perché quegli esemplari dovrebbero stare al di sopra di altri? Perché dovremmo concedere a estranei un'autorità morale che va oltre la nostra? Ci ho riflettuto su molto, Judd. Non agisco in maniera impulsiva. Con una parte della mente vedo sempre Marianne, violentata, svilita, esiliata persino dalla sua stessa famiglia. Come fossimo una tribù primitiva, Cristo santo! Come se nostra sorella fosse diventata portatrice di un tabù! È ridicolo, è intollerabile. Io non lo tollererò. Non sono più cristiano però per Dio sono un protestante. Un ribelle. Farò la mia giustizia perché so cos'è."
E che dopo essersi vendicato deve trovare con ancora più fatica la strada che lo faccia riscoprire se stesso.
"Dopo che me ne sono andato, quella domenica di Pasqua, ricordi? Mi sono svuotato. Il veleno che avevo nel sangue è colato fuori. Come fossi stato malato, infetto, e non me ne fossi accorto finch il veleno è scomparso. Però non rimpiango nulla. Penso che la vendetta debba essere bella. I greci lo sapevano. Sangue chiama sangue. Il bisogno di ristabilire l'equilibrio.[...]"

Sono consapevole del fatto che questa non è una recensione lodevole, e che probabilmente nemmeno si è capito molto di quello che ho detto. Ho pianto perché ho trovato commovente il perdersi e ritrovarsi di fratelli e sorelle e genitori, dopo che avevano litigato, che si erano picchiati, che si erano odiati, dopo che la società li aveva costretti a trovare ognuno la propria strada, a caversela da soli senza la propria famiglia. Ho pianto perché è un libro tristissimo, più scorrono le pagine più diventa deprimente e pesa addosso come un cappotto che in inverno non tiene caldo. Manca il respiro girando le pagine di una storia così tetra eppure vera, così reale e onesta. Penso che la Oates abbia scritto uno dei miei romanzi preferiti.

Profile Image for Lisa.
1,252 reviews
November 22, 2014
This is a story of how one terrible incident poisons and disintegrates a 'perfect' family.

The Mulvaneys live on a farm in New York - there is Mum, Dad, Mike (eldest son), Patrick, Marianne, Judd (youngest son) and a myriad of animals.

The story is told by Judd (he is now a journalist) over 25 years but it is not his personal story - more an exploration of each of the members of his family.

Be warned - this is not an easy read!

The subject matter is emotionally antagonistic and it is PAINFULLY slow. I have to admit that had I not been reading this for a group read I would have abandoned it at any time up to 50%.

Setting the scene of family life at the beginning is so cheesy I nearly threw up - urgh! And as this goes on and on...and on you start thinking come on and tell me what the hell happened...now!

I don't want to give away what happens but you will be shouting, shaking your head and pumping your fist at a) what happens but b) (more importantly) how the incident is dealt with - it is this that gives the book it's edge.

A fascinating exploration of different people's reactions and consequences ensues. The book throws up so many questions about so many subjects and only at the end of the book are you glad of the slow pace and thorough prose.

This book forced me through a whole range of negative emotions but I came out the other side!

I wasn't overly keen on the ending but overall this book was worth reading although I can't describe it as enjoyable.

It is worth noting there is an interesting side theme concerning the animals and their roles in comparison to the humans.
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