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“We Were the Mulvaneys” by Joyce Carol Oates


This book floored me.

It’s been sitting on my bookcase for over a year, huddled with the other J.C.O. books I own and have actually read  – “A Garden of Earthly Delights” , “A Widow’s Tale”, and “The Gravedigger’s Daughter” – but, for some reason, I’d held onto it but hadn’t opened it yet.  Maybe it was the plot – something about a family tragedy – that made me, a newish mom, not feel ready to take this particular journey quite yet.

I’ve taken the journey, and geez.

“We Were the Mulvaneys” is a heart-breaking work, and a wonderful illustration of the sheer talent of Ms. Oates.  The saga of a seemingly perfect , loving family in a rural town that finds their very being shaken to the core after a terrible event, “..Mulvaneys” showcases the sometimes subtle ways that bad things happen to good people, and change the rest of their lives.  Parents don’t always behave right, people keep terrible secrets, and everyone goes a bit crazy sometimes. The Mulvaneys – warmest of families  become strangers, grow apart from each other, and test the notion of whether blood is thicker than water.

It’s so good. I couldn’t put it down. I read it while getting a pedicure, and on the bus, and while being circled by a playful toddler, and it held me captive.  It’s never leaving my bookcase. Ever.



“A Garden of Earthly Delights” by Joyce Carol Oates

gardenearthly“A Garden of Earthly Delights” was originally published in 1966.  For the 2003 edition I read, the prolific and lauded Ms. Oates went back and re-wrote a majority of the novel.

While I can’t speak for the original version, the book I just finished reading was a wonder — a poignant and driving account of the life of Clara, the daughter of migrant farm workers, as she grows from a young girl of humble beginnings to a mother and woman of wealth.

Previously, I’d read and enjoyed Oates’ “The Gravedigger’s Daughter,” and while I found there to be several remarkable similarities between this book and that one, both stand alone as simply darn good reads full of moments that make you smile, moments that makes you gasp, and more than once where your eyes will have gone wide without even your realization.  Ms. Oates is a masterful writer, and “A Garden of Earthly Delights” doesn’t disappoint.  Ms. Oates keeps her characters fresh and interesting by not having them be too perfect, or heck – even the slightest bit perfect.  Clara makes several choices that will astonish the reader, and the final scenes of the book will take a character you thought you knew into an entire different direction.

It’s a mature book about a woman doing what she has to do to get by, and the effect that her choices have on those around her – family and friends and lovers.  There were moments where I was simply spellbound.  I’ll be re-reading this book periodically throughout the rest of my life, I can already tell.