Review: We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates
Published: September 30, 1997
Publisher: Plume
Format: Purchased
Rating: 4/5

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.

My Thoughts
We were the Mulvaneys is a story that takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions and will stay with you long after you read it. The story is told to us by the view point of the youngest brother Judd, it’s the story of the Mulvaney family, they are the ideal picture of what a family should be. A great mother and father who are pillars of the community and three boys and one girl who are what every parent hopes their child would turn out to be.
Everything changes in a course of one night. Marianne, the daughter is raped and she tries to cover up the incident but eventually tells her mother what happens. That one tragic event turns their lives upside down. From that point on they will never be the same. The town turns against them accusing she was at fault and not the guy. Marianne leaves home thinking this will help her family and especially her father whom this has taken the toll on the most. He has lost his company and prestige in the community and can never see his daughter in the same light again. However the one who is hit the hardest is Marianne’s twin brother Patrick. He feels that he should’ve known and he was at fault for not protecting her. He vows to seek revenge on the guy who basically destroyed his family.
This novel spans over two decades and we come to see how one action can change the course of an entire family’s life. Joyce Carol Oates beautifully writes this tragic tale of a family’s story as they try to fight and find their way back to each other and how they were. But what we come to find out is that as much as they try to regain their past glory their future is way better than they ever use to be. While their journey is a rough one of loss, humiliation, and pain this is a course they had to take to allow themselves to heal. To heal physically and spiritual are the things that finally brings them back together after all this time. They each must grow and learn who they were before they could truly love each other again.

In the end the story comes full circle as they are reunited as a family. Life has taken its course over the two decades there are losses and gains. As in everyone’s life they had their ups and downs but like us all we all learn from life’s mistakes and gifts, but in the end it all boils down to faith, at least that’s how I see it. No matter what you believe in if you have faith that will pull you through anything. This is a rich complex story but one that is so worth the read.

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