Snotchocheez's Reviews > Mudwoman

Mudwoman by Joyce Carol Oates
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Jul 18, 12

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Read from May 07 to July 17, 2012

I intentionally waited several weeks to attempt to review JCO's Mudwoman: it left me with a really empty feeling inside, realizing that one of my favorite brood-meisters has quite possibly reached the end of her career, and I so hoped I could show it some Goodreads love and let it percolate its way into a 5-star rating. Um...nope...the 3.11 cume (so far) doesn't lie: it's a creaky mess. And all the more saddening if you realize it was written after her husband of 45+ years passed away, and seems to be her most (if not autobiographical) personal novel to date.

She relates a bizarre, at times far-fetched tale of M.R. Neukirchen, a 40s-ish president of an unnamed Ivy League school (very thinly disgused as Princeton University, where Ms. Oates has resided for decades) who we learn in dream-like flashbacks that her birthmother abandoned her and her baby sister in the mucky bulrushes somewhere in rural upstate New York. The narrative reverts back and forth from her traumatic early years to present day, where we learn, in her duties in leading a university Ms. Neukirchen was horribly traumatized by her upbringing, but strives valiently not to let her gristly past belie her professional facade of pefect decorum and grace under pressure.

It's tough to buy the premise, but if you can look past the implausibilities (and I did), Ms. Oates presents a very engrossing portrait of a woman simultaneously at the top of her game, and at the precipice of meltdown. Where Ms. Oates goes horribly astray (and in the process, practically killing the narrative flow) is when she intersperses poorly-segued dream sequences throughout the novel. It's difficult to fully understand (even with an alternate font) when it's dreamtime craziness, or wakeful insanity Ms. Oates is trying to convey. (Two of the dream sequences in particular, and you'll recognize them immediately when you get to them, are so incredibly bizarre and non-sequitur that i began to question JCO's sanity...they're that strange...EVEN with a career that boasts, among other sordidness, a first person Jeffrey Dahmer-like diary, these dream sequences just, to me, indicate there's a screw loose upstairs, that maybe it's time for her to put away the pen. But I hope I'm wrong.)
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by rachel (new)

rachel I have trouble reading JCO at any length (sorry, her short stories are great though?) but now am so curious about the insane dreams...

Snotchocheez I know JCO's a tough sell; I'd say she's a guilty pleasure, 'cept I'm not ashamed to admit that her stuff (usually) strikes a resonant chord with me. I'll totally concede she's not for everyone. If you're already predisposed to not liking her stuff, her short stories won't win you over either, as they're just as morose and broody as her novels, only in a slightly more easily-digestible format. Her dream sequences and flashbacks are just grating in Mudwoman (and, especially one of them, jaw-droppingly bad...'twould be a spoiler to say anything more). Unless for train-wreck curiosity's sake, I wouldn't bother seeking it out. (I would, still, though, recommend her Dahmer-esque Zombie to you Rachel...which, not coincidentally, reminds me of the aforementioned train-wreck).

message 3: by rachel (new)

rachel I won't seek it out for the sole fact that I have far too many to be read books on my shelves. Even giving away close to 100 of them is only a minor dent. :( Will take your Zombie rec though fo sho.

message 4: by Bonnie (new)

Bonnie do not bother with Zombie. It is nothing but thinly disguised porn. No thread of a story.

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