30 DoB Day 14: Favorite Book Of Favorite Writer

While I had to put some thought into deciding who was my favorite author – deciding on Joyce Carol Oates – coming up with the answer to Day 14 of the 30 Days of Books was actually pretty easy.

Day 14: Favorite Book of Favorite Writer

The Mulvaney family was an upper middle class (maybe lower upper class depending on your definitions) that had it all.  Smart, loving parents that are known and well-respected in their upstate New York community with smart kids from whom much is expected – both as teens and in their upcoming adult lives.  The family lives on a farm – the sort of property that the well-do-to can “work” without any expectation of needing it to produce anything.

We Were The Mulvaneys tracks the family in the wake of their daughter’s date-rape after her high school prom.  In the aftermath of the event, this family’s mettle is tested and it’s not too long before cracks begin to appear and they – previously thinking of themselves as a great family – begin to unravel.

We Were The Mulvaneys

The story is heartbreaking and very American – an ugly truth glossed over for propriety’s sake, a lack of justice, the loss of innocence, the schadenfreude of bringing down the high & mighty and trying to get by.  Each family member reacts to the events and to each other in the wake of the crime and over the following years must face a reckoning – about the event, about their family – what it is and what they thought they had – and about themselves.

I think what really does it for me though is that the story is so human and Oates’ writing so involving that it forces each of us to inhabit the life of the different Mulvaneys and gauge what our own response might be.

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10 thoughts on “30 DoB Day 14: Favorite Book Of Favorite Writer

  1. Good choice. JCO differs from other writers (imho) in that she can write in any style, and you’re right–she puts the reader inside her characters’ heads.

    Also, 50 points to Stevil House for “schadenfreude.” :-)

    • tom — gracias. You’re right and I’d never really thought of it before that one of the great things about her writing is that she doesn’t stay in the same style. Good observation.

    • There’s no shame (or judgment) here, Ross. Mulvaneys is a great book and there’s no reason not to start with that. She also has some short story collections that are great: “Faithless” and “Will You Always Love Me?” are two that spring to mind. Oates herself has said that she thinks folks should start with “them” and “Blonde” which I haven’t read yet…

      • Oddly enough, went I went on Goodreads, I realized I have Mulvaneys sitting on my bookshelf at home! I’m so glad I entered my entire library into GR – makes it so much easier to avoid buying/borrowing books I already have. I’ll check out those collections, too – I’m a big fan of short fiction, so it sounds right up my alley.

        • Ross— I ended up going around and taking pictures of the various bookshelves that we have and using them to enter things into Goodreads. Too funny.

  2. Thanks, Steve. I’ve plowed through as much of “Kraken” as I’m going to (interesting, but the hip, London-ese bogged me down). I’m ready to brag something else from the library.

    • SS — it’s interesting, I listed to the audio of “Kraken” and I wondered how it would translate to the page. I knew it wouldn’t have been everyone’s cup of tea though.

      Viva le difference!

  3. Another surprise: I’ve always thought JCO’s short stories were her best work. We Were the Mulvaneys is a powerful book, but it’s hard to watch the family, who start out as so likable, fall apart as a combination of hypocrisy, moral weakness, and simple paralysis take over their actions. There were several times where I put down the book, saying “I can’t read this anymore.” But JCO’s ability to make one sympathize with the characters even as one’s dismay rises brought me back to finish it. It’s a sad novel, however. Good, but not one I would want to read again.

    • HG — interestingly, I’ve never been that interested in picking up Mulvaneys again. Maybe sometime, but I’m not sure. I think growing up like I did — pretty poor and urban — there’s a part of me that wanted to know a family like that wasn’t better than what I had known. Of course, we were never tested like that — and that’s the sort of thing that just keeps you coming back to the reflective story.

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