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You Must Remember This

3.75  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,874 Ratings  ·  103 Reviews
Joyce Carol Oates's epic novel of an American family in the 1950's probes the tender division between the permissible and the forbidden, between ordinary life and the secret places of the heart. Set in an industrial, working-class town in upstate New York, this book chronicles the frustrating marriage of parents Lyle and Hannah; the idealistic political journey of son Warr ...more
Paperback, 436 pages
Published November 1st 1998 by Plume (first published 1987)
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Book and Theme from Song Title or Lyrics
11th out of 220 books — 38 voters
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12th out of 107 books — 57 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Rachel Kenison
Jan 21, 2010 Rachel Kenison rated it it was ok
If you like moderately depressing mid 1900s tales of incest, suicide and general family dysfunction mixed in the historical facts, you'll love this book. Honestly, I'm surprised I finished it.
Margot Note
When asked what this book was about, I jokingly said, "It's like Raging Bull, but with incest," and I think that's a good description of it.
Jessica
This novel's major plotline is probably the most taboo story I've ever read. I think the manner in which Joyce Carol Oates' writes the characters, displaying and describing their feelings, but not entirely judging them (with some authors it's obvious they like this character, they don't like this one - not with Oates), made me perfectly uncomfortable, and also embroiled in their decisions. I can't stop thinking about this novel, and the characters, and the era it takes place (1950s). The descrip ...more
Asciigod
Apr 16, 2014 Asciigod rated it really liked it
"Though it was a truth Warren had picked up somewhere that things once said within a family cannot be unsaid. And things done but never named might well be forgotten" (p. 147).

"You Must Remember This" is built upon these "things." Oates flashes between these things (situations, feelings, injuries, insanities and impurities) with non-linear plotting, painting an abstract-expressionist theme. Some characters are tight strokes of insight, while others are portrayed as vaguer blurs of background. Sh
...more
Lynne
Apr 19, 2010 Lynne rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
400 pages of gloomy people in a gloomy world. I found it way too easy to anticipate correctly what each character was going to do. Ms Oates did not hit the mark with this one.
Amber
Sep 12, 2011 Amber rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Embarrassingly 70s? I could not relate. None of the characters were likable, and the ones that were really really bad didn't suffer enough.
I absolutely hated the way the author used the word (view spoiler)
Same with (view spoiler)
...more
Carol Storm
May 27, 2014 Carol Storm rated it it was ok
What kills this novel is that Joyce Carol Oates never achieves a consistent viewpoint about her characters.

It's not like STUDS LONIGAN by James T. Farrell, where the author openly hates the characters and is trying to shock the reader into social action. And it's not like LIE DOWN IN DARKNESS by William Styron, where the author loves the characters in spite of how hateful they are and how hopeless their lives have become.

I give it two stars because the boxing scenes are fairly exciting.

courtney
Aug 13, 2010 courtney rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books I've read in recent memory. JCO's prose is so accessible her writing is easily digested by younger readers and oldies but goodies alike. The wonderful thing about that is - her writing's simplicity is perfectly layered, and when it's working, it creates a diaphanous veil of beautiful words, compelling characters, and a gripping plot line. This story in particular is a theme that one could call a favorite of JCO's - a complicated family in the 1950's. A man in love w ...more
Colleen
Dec 21, 2014 Colleen rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hated
This book is full of unlikable characters doing unlikable things. Particularly heinous is Uncle Felix, and not really because of his taboo relationship with his niece. It's more because every time the book's p.o.v. turned to him, it was just nothing but run-on sentences and paragraphs that just emphasize what an awful, awful person he is in every aspect of his life and thought.
Unlikable characters are nothing new in fiction. The trick is to make the reader love to hate them so at least the ride
...more
Albert Brennamin
May 27, 2014 Albert Brennamin rated it really liked it
This mid-length novel details the lives of Enid, Felix and Lyle Stevick very well, weaving them together in violent, explicit and tragic ways to show a tapestry of life in America’s “golden years”. Though published in 1987, You Must Remember This exposes taboo topics from the fifties. This novel will cultivate readership today and tomorrow because these “forbidden” topics of childhood sexuality, lust, governmental distrust, death, mortality, self-control and rebellion remain relevant.

Oates depi
...more
Madeline
Mar 03, 2014 Madeline rated it liked it
This book could've been at least a hundred pages shorter (Oates' strong suit is short stories, I hear length is an issue for a lot of her novels)--at least. The chemistry between Felix and Enid is what propelled me through it for the most part--neither are particularly sympathetic, but they're pretty interesting. The parts with the brother were also engaging. The parts with the parents aren't particularly engaging--the father is a pretentious, unhappy bore.

There isn't much of a plot--it's more
...more
Debbie
Feb 17, 2014 Debbie rated it really liked it
It's been so long since I read this. But I know when I owned it I read it 3 times. I never do this. I'm not sure why I did either. Maybe to try to understand. I also remember that The relationship was SO wrong but like an accident or something on the news.. you just couldn't look away.
Marci
May 27, 2015 Marci rated it liked it
I generally appreciate Oates' tendency to write with what sometimes seems like a train-of-thought style, including seemingly irrelevant or unnecessary details, going on and on, and just when my patience runs a little thin I notice that she's created such a fully realized world, and all those details made that person real and known to me and I get it. I can say she did the same this time, and while none of the characters inspired warm fuzzy respect (I don't need flawless or loveable protagonists) ...more
Samantha Wildt
Jul 05, 2011 Samantha Wildt rated it did not like it
I did not like this book at all. I started the book and got about half way through and couldn't finish. As a parent I found the subject matter very hard to read.
kat
Dec 23, 2009 kat rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It was well-written, but I kind of wish I hadn't read it because the book was so depressing and creepy.
Idyllwilde
Oct 06, 2008 Idyllwilde rated it did not like it
I don't know which is more disturbing; Oates' books or the fact that I keep reading them...
Lindsey
Jul 02, 2008 Lindsey rated it did not like it
didn't hold my interest... i found myself cheating on it with other books... gasp!
Brianna
Jul 02, 2009 Brianna rated it it was ok
I have no idea what's so great about Joyce Carol Oates.
Paulette Ponte
Dec 10, 2011 Paulette Ponte rated it it was amazing
One of my all time favorite books, by any author.
Angela
Mar 14, 2011 Angela rated it really liked it
bizarrely captvating
carey lina
Jul 16, 2012 carey lina rated it liked it
If you've read Boomer-penned books, and you're younger (in my case, offspring of Boomers), then you're probably familiar with a lot of ground reporting on the 50's. Here, it's not the author's laments, but the characters harping (as the do, often, harp and go on about things) on what it was like to live in the 50's. No economic boom for everyone. McCarthyism. Cold war. Bomb shelters. Sexual uptightedness/hypocrasy.

And for we-the-non-Boomers, maybe it seems like beating a dead horse. But, y'know,
...more
Ingrid
Apr 04, 2011 Ingrid rated it really liked it
A sprawling, intricately woven tale of a family in the 1950s. The narrative flows from family member to family member--with the main focus on Enid and Felix. Beautifully written. This was my first time reading a book by Joyce Carol Oates, and I'm glad I did.

I suppose I was offended by those who said this novel did not capture their attention, and those who said it was "creepy.' I think readers who've said the latter entirely missed the point. It is not creepy--even though the circumstances of E
...more
Buchdoktor
Enid Maria Stevick hatte schon als kleines Mädchen Todesgedanken gehabt. In der Bibliothek informierte sie sich ausführlich über Selbstmord und wurde in den Zeitschriften ihres Vaters mit dem Sterben im Krieg und in Vernichtungslagern konfrontiert. Enid ist eine gehorsame, fleissige Schülerin und sehr gute Sportlerin, die keine gleichaltrigen Freundinnen hat. Sie wächst in der ersten Hälfte der 50er Jahre mit drei Geschwistern in einer katholischen Familie auf. Der ältere Bruder Warren ist sicht ...more
Loretta
Sep 13, 2010 Loretta rated it liked it
I need one of two things to pull me into a book: a compelling plot; or interesting, compelling characters. I have read really great books that only had one of those, but there has to be at least one - plot or character.

For the first 100 or so pages, this book had neither to me. I almost gave up on it, which I very rarely do. But I persevered, and when the book finally got into Warren, the oldest brother of this messed up 1950's family, I finally had a character I was interested in and cared abo
...more
Kara
Sep 30, 2014 Kara rated it it was ok
At first I was uneasy about the writing style of this. It was almost-close-to-maybe-possibly stream of consciousness. So I had insight into what the characters were thinking and how their mind worked, but there wasn't any clear structure. Once I got halfway in I felt more at ease. I had a better grasp of the characters and their relation to each other. I also settled on this being a 'slice of life' in that it is describing this portion of this family's life without any clear centralizing event. ...more
Sarah
Oct 21, 2014 Sarah rated it it was ok
I was assigned this book for a grad school class about sportswriting... the boxing scenes - the few there actually were - were exciting. But I'm not sure why we weren't assigned "On Boxing" instead if the professor wanted a JCO book that contained boxing...

I didn't particularly like this book, and I don't know that I would've finished it if it weren't required of me. Too much predatory incest, a grey story set in a grey town about grey people, a little disturbing and a lot depressing. At the en
...more
Cat
May 26, 2014 Cat rated it really liked it
A friend of mine from Chile gave me this, saying it was the one English language book she'd read so far that she could actually understand. So I started reading it and was immediately overwhelmed by the lack of commas. But after the initial shock, reading it was quite smooth for me as well, a native English speaker -- it didn't need commas. I discovered Gertrude Stein 3 years later.
Debbie
Aug 11, 2014 Debbie rated it really liked it
Sometimes I love JCO and sometimes, not so much. This one I loved. She is doing what she does best, takes a family and disfunctions the hell out of it! An interesting Lolita-like plot to it. She also coincides her family's 1950's story to parallel true life stories such as Ike and Nixon running against Adlai Stevenson for President, the McCarthy "witch hunt" and a backdrop of the sleazy world of small time boxing. All in all a great read although I found the ending a bit thrown together.
Thim Sahlén
Mar 21, 2014 Thim Sahlén rated it liked it
I expected a lot more form this book. The only thing I did enjoy was the usual Oates-prose. Too many loose ends (the hotel business, the bomb shelter, everything about Warren (?) etc)

I am a big fan of Oates but I do agree that a lot of her work is somewhat of a hit or miss. This book is the later unfortunately. Three star rating for the prose only.
Diann Cassens
Jul 26, 2015 Diann Cassens rated it did not like it
I don't know why I finished this book. I'm not afraid to give up on a book. Frankly, there are too many good books waiting to be read, so why waste time on a bad one? I read this one to alternate with my "popcorn" reading. This one was to be a more serious subject, from a reputable writer. I didn't like any of the characters, and kept waiting to find out why Joyce Carol Oates is such a critically acclaimed author. I never found the answer. Very disappointing!
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Mystery of Suicide Victim Signed Name as 'Lyle Stevik' 1 7 Jan 26, 2014 12:51AM  
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Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is also the recipient of the 2005 Prix Femina for The Falls. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and she has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. Pseudonyms ... Rosamond Smith and Laure ...more
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“It feels good, honey, but it isn't love.” 48 likes
“Miles away, factory smokestacks rimmed with flame sent up cast billowing clouds of smoke that gave watercolor look to the sky – orange yellow – a pink cast like dawn – beauty to the gray-layered winter sky like cotton batting laced with flame bleak and radiant simultaneously; and Felix in a rush of gratitude though his heartbeat was still erratic and his hands were sticky with blood could have weepy seeing such beauty in all he’d been a witness to most of his life, thinking Oh Jesus he was going to miss these opaque surfaces of a world he knew so well, it was like his skill turned inside out, all he loved out there, he was missing them even now when he was still here, still alive.” 2 likes
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