We Were The MulvaneysWe Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates was published in 1996 and was featured in Oprah’s Book Club in 2001. This post contains affiliate links I must confess, I’ve been reading this book about once a year since I was a sophomore in high school. It is a good book, and it captivates me. Because of recent events and the Me Too movement, it has really made me think more about this book and ask a lot of questions as well. I find I’m comparing this time in our world to the time when the book is written. This is a story about the great all American family, set in 1976. The husband and wife, and four children, good Christian home and upbringing, living on a farm. They own a prominent and thriving business in a small town, and are members of the country club. They all have their own sort of stereotypes in the book, but they fit into the mold of the perfect family. Then it is all torn apart by one event. Characters: Michael Sr. Prominent businessman, country club member, hard worker, well established in town. He starts a roofing business and grows it from the ground up and is very successful with it. He seems very set on driving nice cars, being part of the “higher society” and being accepted by those who have money. Yet the problem is, he is a blue collar worker. Very hard worker in the book, but still a blue collar worker. Once Marianne is raped, he becomes obsessed with that, and it consumes him. He demands that she be sent away because every time he sees her, he sees the rape. It’s like that is all he sees of her after that. He also becomes consumed with revenge, with suing the family of the boy who raped her. He then slides deep into alcoholism. Corinne She is kind of a busy body, very wrapped up in her family. Corinne thrives on the fact her children are popular and the phone is ringing. She loves making casseroles and can make them from nothing, having her kids help her in the kitchen. She doesn’t strike me as having her own identity. Her identity is her deep religious beliefs and her family. I often wonder what kind of a person she would be without that, and making different choices. At the end of the book, we are given a small glimpse of that. When she opens up her own antique shop with a new friend she has made, and she really seems to be thriving. She never had real friends until this point, and even now, only one really. Michael Jr The first born, captain of the football team, joined the military. Did everything right. He also tries to distance himself from the family by joining the Marines and basically running away. I wonder how many times that happens, even today in dysfunctional families, or when something bad happens. Patrick Patrick was the odd child in the family. He was the nerd, always reading, very frank and says exactly what was on his mind. Seems very atheist in his ideas and Corinne is not a fan of that. They tend to butt heads because he sees things in very black and white terms. Like, can something be proven? He does not deal well with blind faith. It is interesting that while in college, he becomes consumed with the idea of revenge against the boy who raped Marianne. He then stalks him and abducts him, threatening to kill him. Patrick never actually hurts him, but certainly scares him. Once that is over, he becomes disinterested in college and ends up dropping out. This need for revenge kind of came out of nowhere, seeming very random, yet it completely consumed him. Once it was over though, it was really over. After that night, he never thinks about that again, or has the urge to do something similar or worse. Marianne She was popular, a high school cheerleader, went to all the dances. The model child. But she is also very naive and unsuspecting. She doesn’t deal well with confrontation or allow herself to grow close to anyone after she is raped, and that is evident when she runs away from many situations after she is sent away by her family. Once the rape happens, she is abandoned by ultimately everyone. She becomes a social outcast and is then sent away by her family to live with some long lost relative. I think this is something that is very relatable even now, becoming the social outcast when something like that happens. Because many people don’t know how to handle it, or be supportive. What do you say to someone with such a horrible experience that many can only imagine just how bad it is? People fear what they don’t understand, and it is generally far easier to ignore it or run away from it. Judd Judd was the baby, and the story is told from his perspective, or as a narrator of the story. It is kind of interesting to watch him grow up in the story, of not always understanding what is going on in his family and desperately wanting to. He is definitely the baby, and treated as such in so many instances. Many times he is kind of an afterthought. Because he is so young and everyone else is grown up in comparison to him. Notes: This book talks about the rise and fall from the social ladder. When Michael and Corinne were first married and didn’t have much, they associated with a certain group and were thought to be great friends. Somehow these friends were forgotten and left behind at the bottom of the social ladder as they climbed it. Later on, as the Mulvaneys fell back down the ladder, they returned to the circle they left behind and were embraced but also had to face the hurt they had caused. Even with their old friends being willing to embrace them again, they seemed snobbish and didn’t want to return to that circle. I think pride gets in the way here, especially on the part of Michael Sr. Even with falling back down the social ladder, he still feels he is too good for the people at the bottom. Yet, the people at the top of the social ladder have shunned him. One of the things I noticed in the book is there is a ton of time and pages devoted to the animals on the farm the Mulvaneys run. There can be a big connection between people and animals. The jokingly using them as a go-between to tell someone something. When Marianne is disowned by the family and sent away, she takes her cat Muffin with her, which is basically the one and only real connection to her old life for the longest time. Muffin is with her through so many events in her life. The book also talks about not only faith, but the lack of faith. Corinne’s unwavering faith versus Patrick’s obsession with Darwin and his theories. Both see things in absolutes, hers being her faith and his being a lack of it. Or, seeing faith as useless. Is there a middle ground or a grey area? It seems the rest of the family exists in the grey area. Judd going to church because he has no choice, but it doesn’t feel like he buys into the blind faith idea, nor does he reject the idea of a god being out there either. It is more like, that is just part of how he was raised and that is it. The rape of Marianne is one of those moments that changes everyone, and there is absolutely no going back to who they were before that event took place. I like the fact that is relatable to all of us. We’ve all gone through something that completely changed who we are. Even if we wanted to, there is just no going back to the who we were before that. We have all had at least one event in our lives that ripped our lives as we knew them apart, and in putting the pieces back together, they seem to fit differently. I’m sure if you are reading this now, you’re thinking of your own moment that it happened. I know I did. Back in 1978 rape was not a word that was spoken very often. It was kept very quiet, and I’m sure many women suffered in silence. I highly doubt there was such a thing as victim services or advocates to help survivors. I wonder how they handled it then? These days it is easier to talk about because we have social media. Many survivors post their stories there and are free to speak out about it. At least they have a platform to tell their stories and share with others, finding those who can relate to their story. The sad part still is that so many of these instances still are not reported, for much the same reasons. It can be a he said/she said battle, or he may say she agreed to it and then changed her mind after it was over. After the rape, Marianne keeps repeating, “I am as much to blame as he is.” How many other women, even today, tell themselves this? The other aspect is family. Corinne rejects Marianne after the rape, at the request of her husband. Does she have a choice? What if she had refused to send her daughter away to live with some long lost relative? What would have happened to Corinne and Marianne? I often wonder how that choice affected Corinne for the years after. Does the fact they rejected her make them terrible people, or is that reaction understandable or forgivable? Or was she simply trying to keep the rest of her family together and not let it destroy everyone? There are definitely two sides to the motivation behind that choice. Are any of the characters in the book, or their actions and reactions justified? Or is that something we should look at from an absolute perspective, black and white terms? This book is well written for the time period it is meant to represent, which is something I appreciate in a good book. It is easy to follow, and I found I wanted to get to know each of the characters more. That is always a sign of a good book in my mind! I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I do! Feel free to let me know in the comments if you’ve read it or what you think of it. About the author: Joyce Carol Oates was born June 16th, 1938 in New York. She published her first book in 1962, and has since published over 40 novels, short stories, poetry, and more. Purchasing: If you are interested in buying this book, click here. Click here for the Kindle version Click here for my favorite Kindle I currently own The Prepping Wife is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com, at no added cost to you.
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