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My Life as a Rat

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  2,487 ratings  ·  396 reviews
“A painful truth of family life: the most tender emotions can change in an instant.  You think your parents love you but is it you they love, or the child who is theirs?”  --Joyce Carol Oates, My Life as a Rat

Which should prevail: loyalty to family or loyalty to the truth? Is telling the truth ever a mistake and is lying for one’s family ever justified?  Can one do the rig
ebook, 416 pages
Published June 4th 2019 by Ecco
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Angela M
May 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars .

This is not an easy book to read. A word of warning - there is child abuse and sexual abuse and violence. I managed to get through these brutal parts of the book and as difficult as it was, I found it to be a powerful story. It’s about family loyalty, betrayals and it’s a stark commentary on inexplicable hate and racism. Taking place in the 1990’s in upstate NY, it’s stunning and sad to think about how relevant the depiction of racism is today. A dysfunctional Irish family where the f
Diane S ☔
May 31, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: lor-2019
Violet is only twelve when she looses those most important her life. The youngestt of seven, raised by a mother who makes it clear that girls don't matter, only the boys are important. When an act of violence occurs, Violet becomes privy to some information she wishes she didn't have. Racial bias, mysogeny, family truth, the bonds that break are all explored. When she can no longer hold the truth in, Violet does the unthinkable as far as her family is concerned, she tells the truth. Instant bani ...more
☘Misericordia☘ ~ The Serendipity Aegis ~  ⚡ϟ⚡ϟ⚡⛈ ✺❂❤❣
JCO made me read it! She's being as visceral as ever in this one. Where her style uniquely fits to call attention to social problems: so very graphic but only up to a point where the reader get to think, a lot. She lets the reader to reach conclusions on their own but firmly steers them to reaching the right ones. Love her prose.

Minus 1 star for the disheveled descriptions straying around the topics (though it's a recognizable part of her style). Plus a million stars for the uniquely hypnotic qu
Michael Finocchiaro
Perhaps, I am just never going to be a fan of Joyce Carol Oates. I found My Life as a Rat pedantic, predictable and a slog to read. All the characters were one-dimensional and the story seemed to want to exploit racism and violence towards young women without really delving sufficiently into the causes.

Oates uses the murder witness trope where the youngest daughter of a Catholic upper-middle-class family overhears a conversation of her guilty brothers and sees the murder weapon (this is not a s
May 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Joyce Carol Oats is a name that is always popping up so I thought it was about time I gave her a whirl.

This book is cleverly written, I actually had to Google if this was based on a true story as its written almost in the format of a memoir and it feels real. It felt a bit muddled, a bit repetitive, as if the main character was talking to you and had forgotten what their last sentence was, which at times was endearing, at others annoying. And these feelings were present during the whole of my r
Roman Clodia
2.5 stars

I'm a huge, huge JCO fan so it pains me to be so critical - but this is a messy book that is also increasingly predictable, a cardinal literary sin that one would never expect to apply to the fertile imagination of JCO.

The first 30% or so draws us in to one of those complicated families that inhabit the JCO universe: the voice is that of Violet Rue, the youngest girl and her father's favourite, just 12 when the book opens, 27 when it closes and from which point she is telling her tale.
♥ Sandi ❣
3.75 starts Thank you to Edelweiss and Ecco for allowing me to read and review this ARC. Published on June 4, 2019.

How do you make moral decisions? Does it depend on the circumstances? Depend on who may be involved? Depend on the outcome or on who knows what your decision is? Would that be different if you were a 12 year old child?

This is the story of Violet who had to make a moral decision. She had a secret. A secret about her brothers. She kept that secret, until she couldn't keep it anymore.
Martie Nees Record
Jul 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Genre: Literary Family Drama
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: June 4, 2019

Oates’ latest novel is raw. It is hard to read, yet hard to put down. The story is fiercely written in an urgent tone to expose every nasty aspect of paternalism and male entitlement. We follow a 12-year-old girl from a working-class tight-knit Irish Catholic family. The setting is South Niagara, New York during the 1990s. Her life as a "rat" begins after she accidentally slips to her school nurse that h
Jun 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
It's always a big deal in my world when a new Joyce Carol Oates's book is published, and once again I felt the usual mix of trepidation and anticipation, but did it live up to the hype or was much of it hyperbole? Try the former and much to my delight!

Once I had gotten started that was it I was hooked and turning the pages feverishly. Sometimes it's the subtle thrillers that have the biggest impact; I definitely felt that was the case here where the creeping sense of unease almost leapt off the
Britta Böhler
JCO's writing was brilliant as always, and her take on the topics explored was really interesting (among other things: racism / family loyalty / gender & class) but sadly, the story never quite came together for me.

2.5* (rounded up)
Alison Hardtmann
Jul 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library-book
When Violet Rue Kerrigan is twelve, she comes downstairs in the middle of the night to hear a confusing conversation between two of her older brothers. It will be a few days before she puts together the pieces of a conversation about fixing a car and hiding a baseball bat with the murder of a black high school student. The Kerrigans are a large Irish family with an unpredictable father, whose moods are carefully monitored by the rest of the family, especially by Violet's mother and sisters. Her ...more
Cody | CodysBookshelf
”My wish is to live a life in which emotions come slowly as clouds on a calm day. You see the approach, you contemplate the beauty of the clowd, you observe it passing, you let it go. You do not dwell upon what you have seen, you do not regret it. You are content to understand that the identical cloud will never come again, no matter how beautiful, unique. You do not weep at its loss.”

I considered not posting this review for a while yet, as this novel does not release until June 19, but I can’t
May 19, 2019 rated it liked it
I'd wanted to read a book by Joyce Carol Oates for sometime having heard great things about her. So, when I got the opportunity to read My Life as a Rat (2019), I grasped it with both hands.

My Life as a Rat follows Violet Rue Kerrigan who comes from a large, poor Irish-American family in Niagara, and whose father is a strict, angry, mercurial and intimidating presence, and whose mother is worn out from her seven children. Violet is exiled from her family after ratting on her brothers who are inv
Kathryn in FL
A highly engaging read by a 5 star writer. This read as though it was a memoir rather than a work of fiction. The main character, Violet Rue comes across as truly experiencing her own betrayal by her family as though it happened. I found it very true to life.

The story from start to finish had such authenticity! If you like literary fiction this should be in you read soon pile.
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very dense ... not an easy read but felt ultimately hopeful.
Claire Fuller
Oct 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Enjoyable (although the story is pretty bleak); I was intrigued by Violet and the kind of woman she became.
Nov 28, 2018 rated it liked it
“Vio-let Rue, what is WRONG with you?”

Set in South Niagara in the 1980s, this sorry tale is told in a form of telegraph-ese by a young narrator talking as if to herself. Once the reader has become accustomed to the voice, it’s a compelling technique.

Violet Rue, the youngest of seven children, is twelve years old when she witnesses her two eldest brothers returning home from a drunken night out. (view spoiler)
Jul 27, 2019 rated it did not like it
I feel the need to justify my rating.

A coworker today told me that Joyce Carol Oates is an "acquired taste," so I will certainly not be opposed to trying another book of hers in the future. This novel, however, was grating and choppy, disorganized and disorienting.

It flips jarringly back and forth from first and second person, sometimes adds in third. There is no clear rule for dialogue—sometimes quotation, sometimes italics, sometimes no break at all. I found it disjointed, fragmented.

Gary Branson
Nothing new here, same themes and characters explored to great extent in many of her other novels. Just once I wish Oates would write a book about a woman not as victim. Loved many of her other books but this just seemed tired, as some of her last few have been.
Joana Gomes
Jan 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library, read-in-2020
This was my first Joyce Carol Oates and I have to say I was impressed with her writing... it pulled me completely into the story!
And the story itself is super powerful, a 12 year old girl sees the brothers she adores hiding something, which she later understands to be a murder weapon. JCO manages to turn this girl into a woman through so much pain and abuse... at some point I was shocked to realize that some of the harassment she suffers was very common in the 80’s and 90’s (almost every woman I
Jun 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Joyce Carol Oates is one of the most prolific writers of our time. Her body of work is extraordinary and My Life as a Rat is a worthy addition to her canon.

Violet Rue Kerrigan is the youngest daughter of the Kerrigan family. Often ignored and left to her own devices in a large and busy household where loyalty and aggression are constants, Violet becomes adept at overhearing the conversations of her older brothers. This habit changes her life forever when an African American boy is brutally atta
Jun 27, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The author expanded on what had been published as a short story a decade and more ago. I may have awarded more stars for a short story that simply gave us a portrait of a family that does fit a stereotype of Irish Catholic family characteristics - too many children bred somewhat unwillingly or out of religious obligation for a woman left as a shadow; cruel and lawless older brothers who rule under the alcoholic father; violent acts that result in jail due to sacrificial lamb daughter who reports ...more
Sarah Churchill
Oct 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To say that Violet has a difficult life is the biggest understatement... this story includes child abuse, sexual abuse, domestic abuse and violence.

You think your parents love you but is it you they love, or the child who is theirs?

Ugh, goosebumps. This is one of those books that reads like lots of little stories all perfectly stitched together; kind of like when you watch Full Metal Jacket and totally forget it's all one big epic Joker journey.

It's a very powerful story. At the time of reading
Jul 06, 2019 rated it liked it
An unforgetable, interesting, very disturbing and a well written novel by Joyce Carol Oates. Definitely a good book, engaging, hard to put down, many powerful messages, typical of most of J. C. Oates writing .
Unfortunately I didn't like this story at all, was really happy when I finished with reading and put it away. I could live without reading this book.
Elaine Aldred
May 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
There is no doubt that My Life as a Rat is a novel which will divide readers, largely because of its subject matter. But Joyce Carol Oates is an author who does not shy away from digging into the dark night of the human soul and how it might spill over onto those who are in close proximity of the person or persons possessing it. In this case it is how Violet Rue responds to what has happened that is at the heart of the story.

This is not an easy area in which to write, because it requires a deep
Donna Bijas
Jul 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-book
4 stars for the beautiful writing alone. At times, I felt as if I were standing next to a character it was that vivid. That being said, the topic here was rough. 12 year old girl in poor family hears here older brothers talk of their killing a young black man. Her family hates her. Going forward at different times in her young life, she is abused. I think her learning to love herself was the theme. I’m not sure. This is not for everyone.
Jane De vries
Jul 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Oates has been writing since 1967 and this is the first book I've read!

Enjoyed much of it - a dramatic example of when telling the truth can go awry.

A real family saga - I look forward to Oates novels in the future.
L-J Johnson
Jan 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oates is an extraordinarily skilled and gifted writer but it's more than that for me. I think I read my first Oates when I was about 18 (Them) and from that book until this one and all of the others in between that I've read, I'm pretty much mesmerized by her work. Something about her writing and how my weird brain is wired match. (I have a similar feeling about Dennis Lehane, Stewart O'Nan, Hilary Mantel, and some others, but Oates is the queen.)
This is the story of Violet, the youngest of a la
Jun 05, 2020 rated it liked it
The book is divided into 3 parts: Parts 1 and 2 are engaging and unputdownable.... Part 3 was a literal snooze-fest and (IMHO) dragged on rather long (with a bit too much inaction on Violet’s part.) The ending was mostly reasonable, if not a little predictable. Oates does draw lines to race issues, but they didn’t feel fully fleshed out, and so, in some ways, the ending felt a little stuffy and awkward.

Deep and important issues of race, gender, family, love, loyalty, forgiveness, and resentment
Aug 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nobody does Irish-American family description like Joyce Carol Oates. She's the best. This book was so good, at the same time, so gloomy. Be prepared. But what am I saying, if you're reading Oates, you're prepared. Has she ever written light-hearted cheerful book?

In this story, we witness the family dynamics of a large and blindly loyal Irish Catholic family, living near Niagara Falls, NY in the 80's. When the two older brothers commit a heinous crime, the family joins forces to shield and supp
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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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