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We Were the Mulvaneys


Joyce Carol Oates' "We Were the Mulvaneys" follows the fallout in the lives of the Mulvaney family of upstate New York as the result of one fateful night. February 14, 1976--the Mulvaney's only daughter, Marianne, attends the prom at the local high school and high on her popularity makes a mistake and ends up being raped. Marianne's unwillingness to face her accuser in court ultimately rips the family apart--alienating the three Mulvaney sons, disolving the parent's marriage, all as Marianne struggles to find an identity for herself as the exiled fallen hero of the family. The novel follows the family for 20 years--and leaves the reader wondering throughout--will they be the Mulvaneys again?

This is an excellent and powerful work from Oates. The story is told primarily from the perspective of three of the children--Judd, Patrick, and Marianne--although Judd is introduced as the primary storyteller at the outset of the novel and both of the parents, Mike and Corinne, have their own chapters. The emotion in this novel is raw--the event damages each of the Mulvaneys in their own way, and no one of them will ever be the same. But there is redemption in the way that each of the children ultimately overcomes the event and comes into his/her own as an adult. Their struggles against the ghosts of their past are not easy, but the journey is an emotional one that Oates shares intimately with the reader.

This is an excellent book if you are interested in a rich character study. A wonderful lyrical storyteller, Oates makes parts of this novel sing with rich language and settings. If you enjoy literary fiction, this is a book for you.

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Tags: Mulvaney, family, Marianne, Mulvaneys, apart