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We Were the Mulvaneys

We Were the Mulvaneys

3.5 156
by Joyce Carol Oates

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A New York Times Notable Book and a former Oprah Book Club® selection

Moving away from the dark tone of her more recent masterpieces, Joyce Carol Oates turns the tale of a family struggling to cope with its fall from grace into a deeply moving and unforgettable account of the vigor of hope and the power of love to prevail over suffering.


A New York Times Notable Book and a former Oprah Book Club® selection

Moving away from the dark tone of her more recent masterpieces, Joyce Carol Oates turns the tale of a family struggling to cope with its fall from grace into a deeply moving and unforgettable account of the vigor of hope and the power of love to prevail over suffering. 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. Profoundly cathartic, Oates' acclaimed novel unfolds as if, in the darkness of the human spirit, she has come upon a source of light at its core. Rarely has a writer made such a startling and inspiring statement about the value of hope and compassion.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"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

In her 26th novel, Joyce Carol Oates has written a rich, complex saga about a seemingly ideal family that is suddenly rocked by the date-rape of 16-year-old Marianne Mulvaney. This shattering event touches off an extraordinary journey into 25 years of shameful secrets and despair, culminating in the unforseen miracles that can bring a family closer together. Making We Were the Mulvaneys her first Oprah's Book Club™ selection of 2001, Oprah Winfrey said, "I read this book over a year ago, but this family still haunts me."
David Futrelle

in her gracefully sprawling new novel, Joyce Carol Oates delivers a modern family tragedy with a theme as painfully primal as Oedipus Rex. Over the course of 400-plus pages, we watch, in a kind of slow-motion horror, as life at the Mulvaneys' High Point Farm in upstate New York is wrenched apart by an act of careless brutality inflicted by an outsider upon the family's only daughter. The rape of the almost-too-perfect Marianne -- spoken of in hushed voices and euphemistic language designed to efface its blunt horror -- comes to haunt each member of the family in a different way.

Shocked and embarrassed by Marianne's "trouble" (and unwilling to punish the young man who brutalized her), the community of Mt. Ephraim turns upon the Mulvaneys, and they turn upon each other. Marianne's mere presence becomes intolerable to her increasingly erratic father, who is filled with rage at his daughter's defilement and at the town's betrayal of his trust. She is banished from the house; her two older brothers send themselves into exile. While at college, Patrick -- as aloof and angrily obsessive as the Unabomber -- plans an act of rough justice against his sister's rapist.

Reduced to the bare essence of its plot, Oates' book sounds uncomfortably like a movie-of-the-week melodrama -- a high-minded plea against the horrors of date rape. With its atmosphere of secrecy and doom, it might appear merely another example of Oates' gothic imagination run amok: The Fall of the House of Mulvaney.

But this book is much more than that. Detailing the small rituals of intimacy that define a close-knit family, Oates pulls us gently into the comfortable Mulvaney world. When this world begins to break apart, we fully grasp the extent of the tragedy -- and the unsettling fragility of a life that seems at first as solidly anchored as the Mulvaneys' old farm house. Oates -- as obsessive as the Mulvaneys themselves -- follows each thread of the story to its conclusion -- a conclusion that hints at a kind of reconciliation and something close to closure. This is a novel that comes close, very close, to being as rich and as maddeningly jumbled as life itself.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Elegiac and urgent in tone, Oates's wrenching 26th novel (after Zombie) is a profound and darkly realistic chronicle of one family's hubristic heyday and its fall from grace. The wealthy, socially elite Mulvaneys live on historic High Point Farm, near the small upstate town of Mt. Ephraim, N.Y. Before the act of violence that forever destroys it, an idyllic incandescence bathes life on the farm. Hard-working and proud, Michael Mulvaney owns a successful roofing company. His wife, Corinne, who makes a halfhearted attempt at running an antique business, adores her husband and four children, feeling "privileged by God." Narrator Judd looks up to his older brothers, athletic Mike Jr. ("Mule") and intellectual Patrick ("Pinch"), and his sister, radiant Marianne, a popular cheerleader who is 17 in 1976 when she is raped by a classmate after a prom. Though the incident is hushed up, everyone in the family becomes a casualty. Guilty and shamed by his reaction to his daughter's defilement, Mike Sr. can't bear to look at Marianne, and she is banished from her home, sent to live with a distant relative. The family begins to disintegrate. Mike loses his business and, later, the homestead. The boys and Corinne register their frustration and sadness in different, destructive ways. Valiant, tainted Marianne runs from love and commitment. More than a decade later, there is a surprising denouement, in which Oates accommodates a guardedly optimistic vision of the future. Each family member is complexly rendered and seen against the background of social and cultural conditioning. As with much of Oates's work, the prose is sometimes prolix, but the very rush of narrative, in which flashbacks capture the same urgency of tone as the present, gives this moving tale its emotional power.
Library Journal
Everyone knows the Mulvaneys: Dad the successful businessman, Mike the football star, Marianne the cheerleader, Patrick the brain, Judd the runt, and Mom dedicated to running the family. But after what sometime narrator Judd calls the events of Valentine's Day 1976, this ideal family falls apart and is not reunited until 1993. Oates's (Will You Always Love Me, LJ 2/1/96) 26th novel explores this disintegration with an eye to the nature of changing relationships and recovering from the fractures that occur. Through vivid imagery of a calm upstate New York landscape that any moment can be transformed by a blinding blizzard into a near-death experience, Oates demonstrates how faith and hope can help us endure. At another level, the process of becoming the Mulvaneys again investigates the philosophical and spiritual aspects of a family's survival and restoration. Highly recommended.Joshua Cohen, Mid-Hudson Lib. System, Poughkeepsie, NY
Kirkus Reviews
This wrenching saga, set in the fictional upstate New York town of Mount Ephraim, is one of the protean Oates's most skillful dramatizations of family unhappiness: A big, involving novel on a par with such successes as Them (1969), Bellefleur (1980), and What I Lived For (1994).

The story, from the 1950s through the 1980s, tells of roofing contractor Mike Mulvaney, his beautiful and tenderhearted wife Corinne, and their four children: "High school celebrity" and football hero Mike Jr., intellectually gifted Patrick, sweet and simple Marianne, and troubled Judd, the youngest, who narrates, mixing "conjecture" with remembered facts as he recounts both his immediate family's shared experiences and the earlier lives of their parents. The resulting panorama offers both a brilliantly detailed and varied picture of family life and a succession of dramatic set pieces, the majority of which are ingeniously related to "the events of 1976 when everything came apart for us." In that year, inexperienced Marianne either was raped or had consensual sex with a high-school boy she hardly knew—Oates keeps both possibilities teasingly in play—and in the aftermath of her disgrace, Mike Sr. became a helpless belligerent drunk, Patrick subverted his formidable powers of concentration to fantasies of "executing justice," and the once-proud Mulvaneys began their long descent into financial ruin, estrangement, and death. Their harrowing story is leavened by Oates's matchless grasp of middle- class culture, and by a number of superbly orchestrated extended scenes and flashbacks. These are people we recognize, and she makes us care deeply about them.

Just when you think Oates has finally run dry, or is mired in mechanical self-repetition, she stuns you with another example of her essential kinship with the classic American realistic novelists. Dreiser would have understood and approved the passion and power of We Were the Mulvaneys.

The San Francisco Chronicle
A grand, symphonic novel...one of Oates's finest.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Oprah's Book Club Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

We were the Mulvaneys, remember us?

You may have thought our family was larger, often I'd meet people who believed we Mulvaneys were a virtual clan, but in fact there were only six of us: my dad who was Michael John Mulvaney, Sr., my mom Corinne, my brothers Mike Jr. and Patrick and my sister Marianne, and me—Judd.

From summer 1955 to spring 1980 when my dad and mom were forced to sell the property there were Mulvaneys at High Point Farm, on the High Point Road seven miles north and east of the small city of Mt. Ephraim in upstate New York, in the Chautauqua Valley approximately seventy miles south of Lake Ontario.

High Point Farm was a well-known property in the Valley, in time to be designated a historical landmark, and "Mulvaney" was a well-known name.

For a long time you envied us, then you pitied us.

For a long time you admired us, then you thought Good!—that's what they deserve.

"Too direct, Judd!"—my mother would say, wringing her hands in discomfort. But I believe in uttering the truth, even if it hurts. Particularly if it hurts.

For all of my childhood as a Mulvaney I was the baby of the family. To be the baby of such a family is to know you're the last little caboose of a long roaring train. They loved me so, when they paid any attention to me at all. I was like a creature dazed and blinded by intense, searing light that might suddenly switch off and leave me in darkness. I couldn't seem to figure out who I was, if I had an actual name, or many names, all of them affectionate and many of them teasing, like "Dimple," "Pretty Boy" or, alternately, "Sourpuss," or "Ranger"—my favourite. I was "Baby" or "Babyface" much of the time while growing up. "Judd" was a name associated with a certain measure of sternness, sobriety, though in fact we Mulvaney children were rarely scolded and even more rarely punished. "Judson Andrew" which is my baptismal name was a name of such dignity and aspiration I never came to feel it could be mine, only something borrowed like a Hallowe'en mask.

You'd get the impression, at least I did, that "Judd" who was "Baby" almost didn't make it. Getting born, I mean. The train had pulled out, the caboose was being rushed to the track. Not that Corinne Mulvaney was so very old when I was born—she was only thirty-three. Which certainly isn't "old" by today's standards. I was born in 1963, the year Dad used to say, with a grim shake of his head, a sick-at-heart look in his eyes, "tore history in two" for Americans. What worried me was I'd come along so belatedly, everyone else was here except me! A complete Mulvaney family without Judd.

Always it seemed, hard as I tried I could never hope to catch up with all their good times, secrets, jokes—their memories. What is a family, after all, except memories?—haphazard and precious as the contents of a catchall drawer in the kitchen (called the "junk drawer" in our household, for good reason). My handicap, I gradually realized, was that by the time I got around to being born, my brother Mike was already ten years old and for children that's equivalent to another generation. Where's Baby?—who's got Baby? the cry would commence, and whoever was nearest would scoop me up and off we'd go. A scramble of dogs barking, exaggerated as animals are often exaggerations of human beings, emotions so rawly exposed. Who's got Baby? Don't forget Baby!

The dogs, cats, horses, even the cars and pickups Dad and Mom drove before I was born, those big flashy-sexy Fifties models—all these I would pore over in Mom's overstuffed snapshot albums, determined to attach myself to their memories. Sure, I remember! Sure, I was there! Mike's first pony Crackerjack who was a sorrel with sand-coloured markings. Our setter Foxy as a puppy. The time Dad ran the tractor into a ditch. The time Mom threw corncobs to scare away strange dogs she believed were threatening the chickens and the dogs turned out to be a black bear and two cubs. The time Dad invited 150 people to Mulvaney's Fourth of July cookout assuming that only about half would show up, and everyone showed up—and a few more. The time a somewhat disreputable friend of Dad's flew over to High Point Farm from an airport in Marsena in a canary-yellow Piper Cub and landed—"Crash-landed, almost," Mom would say dryly—in one of the pastures, and though the baby in the snapshots commemorating this occasion would have to have been my sister Marianne, in July 1960, I was able to convince myself Yes I was there, I remember. I do!

And when in subsequent years they would speak of the incident, recalling the way the wind buffeted the little plane when Wally Parks, my Dad's friend, took Dad up for a brief flight, I was positive I'd been there, I could recall how excited I was, how excited we all were, Mike, Patrick, Marianne and me, and of course Mom, watching as the Piper Cub rose higher and higher shuddering in the wind, grew smaller and smaller with distance until it was no larger than a sparrow hawk, high above the Valley, looking as if a single strong gust of wind could bring it down. And Mom prayed aloud, "God, bring those lunatics back alive and I'll never complain about anything again, I promise. Amen."

I'd swear even now, I'd been there.

For the Mulvaneys were a family in which everything that happened to them was precous and everything that was precious was stored in memory and everyone had a history.

Which is why many of you envied us, I think. Before the events of 1976 when everything came apart for us and was never again put together in quite the same way.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"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

Meet the Author

In addition to many prize-winning and bestselling novels, including We Were the Mulvaneys, Black Water, and Because It Is Bitter and Because It Is My Heart (available in Plume editions), Joyce Carol Oates is the author of a number of works of gothic fiction including Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque (Plume), a 1995 World Fantasy Award nominee; and Zombie (Plume), winner of the 1996 Bram Stoker Award for Best Horror Novel, awarded by the Horror Writers' Association. In 1994, Oates received the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award in Horror Fiction. She is the editor of American Gothic Tales and her latest novel is Broke Heart Blues (Dutton). She lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Brief Biography

Princeton, New Jersey
Date of Birth:
June 16, 1938
Place of Birth:
Lockport, New York
B.A., Syracuse University, 1960; M.A., University of Wisconsin, 1961

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We Were the Mulvaneys 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 156 reviews.
ar_t More than 1 year ago
This is a compelling yet completely heartbreaking novel. In We Were the Mulvaneys, Oates creates an idyllic family with a peaceful, happy life, and depicts the family members¿ simultaneous demises after Marianne, their daughter, is raped at a party after prom. As the Mulvaneys fall from their previous social standing and each undergo personal struggles involving recovery and justice, Oates touches on all aspects of family issues. From alcoholism, to violence, depression, anxiety, and separation, she leaves absolutely nothing out. The effect is a book that will ¿Break your heart, heal it, then break it again,¿ as a reviewer from the Los Angeles Times Book Review put it. Though it¿s not a book to read on a sunny day when you¿re in a good mood, We Were the Mulvaneys is honest, insightful, and powerful. It will make you think about the connections between family members in ways you never have before.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is my favorite. Not only is it written by the amazing Joyce Carol Oates, but because it is a story that haunts me everyday. I recommend this book to everyone. We Were the Mulvaneys is phychologically deep and timeless. It has definetly left a mark on my heart.
CourtRose More than 1 year ago
i had to read We Were the Mulvaneys for school , and i must admit i found it hard to read. The beginning of the book, though a little too off topic at times, i found very interesting and i fell in love with not exacty a particular character, but how they all interact with each other. The second half of the book got a little boring, but seeing the characters who seem indistrucable crumble, and the ones who seem to be weak break free of your judgments inspired me. While reading this book i felt many emotions, and it even made me cry. seeing how one person can effect the lives of so many others and watching characters struggle to grow, to become who they are in the end, was amazing. i think the books end was much to sudden, and worked out a little to well, and didnt even really tie up all loose ends. Sometimes characters especially Marianne we hard to relate to, but somehow it kept me into the bok. the book did NOT make me want never put it down, its deffintinly the type of pook you need a break from, but overall, i think it was worthwhile because the lessons in the book and the charactrs in the book have seemed to wedged themselves into my heart, and i dont think ill soon forget them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'We were the Mulvaneys, remember us?' Thats how the story started, and thats exactly what caught me because no, I did not know them, but simply by asking, it made me think that they were supposedly well-known. I read this book when I was 15, and again now, 2 years later, and am also doing a research paper on Joyce Carol Oates and actually set up an interview with her, since she's only half an hour away in Princeton. WE WERE THE MULVANEYS was one of the best books I've ever read. The characters were so vivid and so many experiences were displayed so that the reader knew each character well, as if known personally, so that when the downfall of the Mulvaney family- a prosperous, popular family- occurs, it leaves the reader so moved and upset. And that is what great writing is.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My mother and I are both avid readers- we're having a hard time finding anything else even remotely interesting after reading 'We Were the Mulvaneys.' It keeps you thinking for months...
Guest More than 1 year ago
In We Were the Mulvaneys, Oates makes you as the reader feel as if you are part of the Mulvaney family. When the family is broken apart you feel broken along with them. This book will keep you turning the pages for hours.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Oates¿s artistic, descriptive writing style allows the reader to feel the settings involved in the story. A truly wonderful book that makes the reader sense they are actually involved in the emotional tragedies and triumphs of the story. This is an empathetic story which makes one envision the Mulvaneys as their own neighbors.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book keeps you enthralled from beginning to end. Oates is a great author and I can't wait to read more of her books. This book has amazing characters and is really touching.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this Oates novel because it tells a story that is relatable - something that some of Oate's novels don't possess. I believe Oates to be a gifted writer, and even though I may not enjoy each of her storylines, I read them, appreciating her ability to manipulate the written word.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had a few problems with Judd as the narrator...there are times when the story is just begging to be told from the viewpoint of Corinne, of Patrick, and even of Marianne (especially when she visits Patrick in Ithaca) but my criticisms are few. This book is powerful in ways that many books are not but should strive to be. This family that has hidden the cracks in its exterior for so long and lived an idyllic existence in 'paradise' is forced to come face to face with a forced reality that rips to shreds everything that they were. All of this is done with a reality that is chilling and engrossing all at once.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sometimes when a woman is raped everything around her changes, including her family. This is what exactly happened to the fictional Mulvaney family in 'We Were The Mulvaneys.' Author Joyce Carol Oates takes you into the world of the once close-knit Mulvaney clan through the voice of younger brother Judd Mulvaney. Told in a clearly written and mature voice, you feel the pain Judds' family goes through when they all learn his older sister, Marianne, is raped. From then on, you notice the family drift apart to spiral out of control. For the three weeks I read, 'We Were The Mulvaneys,' I could not put this book down. I was gripped to the very end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was so affected by this novel, that I felt emotionally drained when I finished. I couldn't begin another book for awhile, because I was so overcome with emotion reading this one. Not a book to be read when one wants a light, easy read. This is, in my opinion, a masterpiece.
ChessTiger More than 1 year ago
An excellent book. Very chilling. Like the seasons changing; the leaves fall one by one off of the Mulvaney family tree. I encourage anyone to read this book. It will change the way you see family life and how fragile it can be.
BrandyGirl More than 1 year ago
I started this book last night. Hard to put down. I like this author and it is probably her best. I almost feel like I am part of the Mulvaney family.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LucyTS More than 1 year ago
This reminded me of a Wally Lamb book. Well written but too wordy and a little slow at times. Worth a read though.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the first book i have read by JCO and i enjoyed it. It was a very believabke and real story - a situatuon i could imagine any family experiening. The way she writes is very interesting!
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This is well-written and engrossing BUT do not expect a light, entertaining read. I found in impossible to not bond with this family!
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