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My Life as a Rat

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  141 ratings  ·  39 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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3.87  · 
Rating details
 ·  141 ratings  ·  39 reviews

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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
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
♥ 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.
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.
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)
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
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)
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
Bridgit Morgan
Jun 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
Another great story from JCO. I'll read just about anything this woman publishes.
miss.mesmerized mesmerized
“I was twelve years old. This was the morning of the last day of my childhood.”
Violet Rue has always been her father’s favourite little girl. Just like her older sisters before, but not the brothers. The seventh of the children was loved beyond belief and treated differently. Jerome Kerrigan wasn’t an easy man, expecting his family to be obedient and to follow his orders. His education was strict and very clear. But then, one event changes everything. Her older brothers commit a cruel crime, kil
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
Curtis Runstedler
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A new JCO book is always a treat, and I think last year's book A Book of American Martyrs, which navigates the abortion debate in America with a tale of two families and the radical shooting of a doctor in an abortion clinic (I am resolutely pro-choice and so is she), is one of her best. My Life as a Rat, which about a white girl who informs to the police after her older brothers kill a black boy,is also great and strikingly relevant. Violet is labelled a rat for speaking out and ostracized from ...more
“Once I’d been Daddy’s favourite. Before something terrible happened.”

My thanks to Fourth Estate for an eARC via NetGalley of ‘My Life As A Rat’ by Joyce Carol Oates in exchange for an honest review.

Twenty-seven year old Violet Rue Kerrigan looks back on the last fifteen years of her life. She was the youngest of seven children born into a close knit Irish-Catholic family with strong links to their South Niagara community.

In 1991 at the age of twelve she is quite an innocent adoring her father a
Graham Wilhauk
I'm flying through reviews right now and this book, being my second favorite read of the year (so far), deserves my FULL attention and a FULL review. Just know that this is my third favorite JCO book now. A soon-to-be ESSENTIAL work of her's.

I am giving this one a 5 out of 5 stars.
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
Shashank Singh
A good subtitle for this book might be “a girl and her dog.”

Joyce Carole Oates wrote a long time ago that "The art of tragedy grows out of a break between self and community, a sense of isolation. At its base is fear [Edge of impossibility, p3].” This book is very much realistic fiction, but it’s propelling event and core is tragedy, and tragedy at many levels.

The moment Violet Rue finds herself separated, particularly psychologically and eventually physically, from her community: her family an
Patrick O'Donoghue
My Life as a Rat tells the story of 12-year-old Violet Rue Kerrigan, the youngest of the seven Kerrigan children. When Violet’s brothers return home late on the same night a black boy is brutally beaten she overhears their whispers, watches as they try to wash stains from a bloody baseball bat, and then bury it near the river running past their house. Violet keeps her silence while under constant threat from her violent brother, until one day at school, sick with a fever, she blurts out what she ...more
Neelam Babul
Jun 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
I have always wanted to read a book by Joyce Carol Oates and the title of this book seemed interesting enough for me to give it a try.

The story is about Violet, a twelve year old girl who loses the most important people in her life after revealing a secret which she was not supposed to do. The youngest of seven, raised by a mother who makes it clear that girls don't matter and a father who adores her but also rules over them with a tight fist. Being the sole bread earner, everyone in the house
Jun 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Precious Violet is a victim of violence, abuse and disinterest who nevertheless shines with a purity that cannot be tarnished. She’s just trying to live her life with integrity and a code of morality that makes me weep with hope that she will continue to find her way. As always, I am lost in Joyce Carol Oates’ world and I appreciated the moral and racial issues this novel grapples with. How can the right thing be anything but the right thing? From whence this murky darkness that masquerades as a ...more
Lizzie Sharples
Mar 19, 2019 rated it liked it
*** ARC provided by Netgalley via the publisher in exchange for an honest review. ***

I requested to review this book as I have only read Foxfire by Joyce Carol Oates previously and have been meaning to get around to reading more of her work, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity!

Violet Rue is the youngest in an Irish American family, a family that is loving, busy and highly protective of each other. The story really starts when Violet ‘rats’ on her brothers and their involvement in a racia
Dawn Morong
Jun 12, 2019 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Pamela Scott

(ARC from @4thEstateBooks via #NetGalley)

JCO has done it again and written an incredible book. This is based on a story she wrote years ago, Curly Red. I’ve read the story and this novel is a clear expansion of the events in the story. I felt incredibly sad for Violet. She is just a child and everything that happens is not her fault but the fault of adults she inadvertently confesses to who take control and set events in motion. The way her family especial
Cathryn Conroy
Jun 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a deeply affecting and heart-wrenching book about forgiveness. And it's about the most difficult form of forgiveness: Forgiving oneself.

Violet Rue is the youngest of seven children in the Irish Catholic, blue collar Kerrigan family of South Niagara, New York. While there is not a lot of happiness in the Kerrigan family, there is security. But all that is rent asunder when Violet's two oldest brothers commit a heinous crime—and only Violet knows they did it. Terrified, confused and desper
Jun 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The wonders of Joyce Carol Oates! This book is a great read and written in a way that keeps you not wanting to put it down. The story illustrates how not only physical violence is violent. It illustrates the truth that you can never really be "grown up" and free until you are free from a dysfunctional family.

Beautifully written, it evokes themes in her earlier books, BECAUSE IT IS BITTER AND BECAUSE IT IS MY HEART (1990) and most telling WE WERE THE MULVANEY'S (1996).
Jun 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Couldn’t Put This Book Down!

Wonderful book, I couldn’t put it down...emotions were so aptly done. I felt the pain of estrangement that Violet must have felt in the book. So beautifully written. Parts of it were reminiscent of We Were the Mulvaneys, which I read many years ago, at the heart both novels centering around the pain of family relationships for daughters. I highly recommend this book!
Dec 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: for-review
Someone characterized JCO's novel as misery memoir and I couldn't agree more; the whole thing feels emotionally exploitative, whilst lacking any depth. The theme of family loyalty and betrayal is definitely enticing, however the story quickly, as Violet grows up, turns into a depressing catalogue of mis-use at the hands of men.

Readers that loved Yanagihara's A Little Life will definitely enjoy My Life as a Rat as well.
Frank Key
Jun 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Before you begin reading, start the rhythm of pounding war drums in your head. Using short phrases and sentences the staccato pace of this expertly constructed story doesn't let up from page one until the end. My Life as a Rat isn't easy on the reader. It is relentlessly demanding with no pauses in the telling to reflect on what just happened. It builds and builds until the reader cries "enough" but still Joyce Carol Oates persists until the very end.

12 June 2019
Jun 10, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Worst book ever Read! Very disappointed a lot of kudo's for Carol in previous works but very frankly shook my head waiting in this one and just glad it's over. Needs lessons from the best, James Lee Burke and Michael Connolly.
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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