Stepheny's Reviews > We Were the Mulvaneys

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates
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bookshelves: audio-books, destroy-it-like-a-horcrux, why-would-ya

Warning! Warning! Potential spoilers contained in this rant-filled review!

We Were the Mulvaneys is probably JCO’s most known novel. I can’t for the life of me understand why. I will be the first to tell you what a JCO enthusiast I am, yet before reading this I had never read a single novel of hers. I had read and loved her short stories as if they were written for my eyes only and I cherished them as such. I still do…more so now after having read this book.

This book is….something.

I guess a lot can be said about a novel that makes you feel such strong emotions on such a varying range. I felt a lot of anger while reading this. So much so that I found myself clenching my hands so tightly that my knuckles were turning white. I was also scowling a lot which is going to age me some day. I find I scowl when I’m concentrating in general so angry scowling on top of normal scowling is not good for me.

This book is about a family- The Mulvaneys. They are a good family; a well-known family in their country home in upstate NY. These family members have names but to be honest with you each one is referred to by about 4 different names and there is such a long introduction to all of them individually that I couldn’t be bothered to actually pay attention to it. There’s a mom, a dad, a few brothers and a sweet darling sister whose innocence is taken from her in one of the worst ways one could ever imagine.

The family reacts to this “situation” in a way that is flat out appalling. Growing up in the family that I did I find this so unacceptable that I almost stopped reading it. In fact, I wanted to drive until I found the Mulvaney farm and go on a rampage that would either result in murder or a severe talking to with this family. Certainly if I had ever been a victim my father would not have ever blamed me, or begrudged me for soiling the family name. Instead he would have done everything in his power to see that there was justice and that I received the help that I needed to cope with what had been done to me. Yes, I feel confident enough in my family to know that he would have done this even in 1970. The time of the event is relevant, yes, but the point is the problem lies with the father. It is a character flaw. Victim blaming is a real thing and it happens every single day.

The fact that Mrs. Mulvaney puts up with her jackass of a husband and his outrageous behavior where he essentially shuns his daughter is so completely baffling to me. Once again this is because of my upbringing. My mother is one of the strongest willed women you could ever meet. I’m fairly certain that if there were a Mama Bear protecting her cub and my mother protecting me and you had to choose between which one to fight you would choose the bear every time. Hell hath no fury like my mother protecting one of her children.

There was a point in this book where I was actually hoping to see a teenager kill another young man. I was literally grinding my teeth in agitation wishing he would pull that trigger and knowing he wouldn’t do it. I don’t normally encourage murder but in this case I felt it justified.

Button, our sweet innocent victim in this story, shows no personal growth because she doesn’t understand that what has been done to her is wrong. She doesn’t seem to get that the initial act that causes all of this is wrong and she doesn’t understand that her father’s reaction is wrong. She just goes about her life thinking this is just the way things are and she never seeks help for the emotional damage that is so evident to the readers.

The end of this story infuriated me more than anything. Why would you ever give that man the satisfaction of going to see him on his death bed? He single-handedly destroyed your family because he was too goddamn proud to face what happened. He outcasts you, moves you away from your family and doesn’t talk to you for what- 20 fucking years?! And you still go crawling to his bedside like a good and obedient little child?! Of course you do because you don’t know any better and it’s making me angry for completely different reasons! I’m mad because you should have been helped! You should have been hugged and loved and told that it was not your fault. And now here I am blaming you for the lack of compassion done to you by your own family.

JCO is kind of known for making you stop and really think about the world and what goes on around you. These things happen in life. There are tragedies. There is death. There is rape. There is cruel behavior. All it takes is one person doing the right thing. I applaud JCO for making me feel these things. It’s a sign of a great writer. HOWEVER, the subject content was just too overwhelming for me to rate it high. It was such a grueling read. I didn’t enjoy this book. It was written fine- of course!-it’s JCO after all. But it affected me too personally for me to ever love this book or to ever recommend it. I feel bad that I selected this book for my group read. (Sorry girls!!) BUT, it did spark some really excellent discussions.
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Reading Progress

March 14, 2014 – Shelved
March 14, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
October 31, 2014 – Started Reading
October 31, 2014 – Shelved as: audio-books
November 1, 2014 –
3.0% "JCO sure knows how to paint a vivid picture. Her style of writing just blows me away."
November 3, 2014 –
November 7, 2014 –
23.0% "Poor Button. :'("
November 9, 2014 –
November 15, 2014 –
40.0% "This family is making me sick to my stomach..."
November 15, 2014 –
49.0% "This book is evoking some very serious emotions from me. I can't believe how a family could react this way to a child being victimized. Absolutely disgusted. Great job, JCO for your ability to elicit such a strong reaction from me."
November 16, 2014 –
November 20, 2014 –
59.0% "Oh this is just...bad. Bad, bad, bad news."
November 22, 2014 –
67.0% "Wow. I'm actually encouraging a kid to commit murder. And I am absolutely disgusted with the other 97% of this family. Victim-shaming/blaming is real and it is sickening. Thank you, JCO for making me feel real anger."
November 24, 2014 –
79.0% "Is there no end to this poor girl's suffering?! This is outrageous."
November 24, 2014 –
85.0% "I want to reach my hands through this book's pages and strangle these people myself. And then rescue Button and Muffin."
November 25, 2014 –
90.0% "My heart has been broken through this whole book. Please, not Muffin."
November 26, 2014 – Finished Reading
December 16, 2014 – Shelved as: destroy-it-like-a-horcrux
December 16, 2014 – Shelved as: why-would-ya

Comments Showing 1-25 of 25 (25 new)

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message 1: by Dustin (new) - added it

Dustin Yay, YES!!!!:)

message 2: by Beverly (new)

Beverly I have a love/hate thing with her books. She's an amazing writer, but I often felt like my heart has been put through the meat grinder when I finish....which is a testament to what a great author she is, because she is able to get me riled up. But I can only read those kinds of books so often.

message 3: by Dustin (new) - added it

Dustin Oh, really? I simply adore her to pieces.:) I couldn't agree more, the impact her work has on the reader is a HUGE testament to her greatness as a writer.

message 4: by Dustin (new) - added it

Dustin Oh wow, I'm surprised this wasn't a 5 star book for you.

Stepheny I enjoyed the writing but was not satisfied with the resolution of this story. The family was appalling and I really have a sour taste in my mouth. :/

message 6: by Dustin (new) - added it

Dustin Well of course you enjoyed the writing, it's JCO, after all.:) I'm sorry the end didn't work for you.. Can't wait to read this for myself.

message 7: by Delee (new) - added it

Delee How mad will you be if I scrap this for now? I just caaaaaaaaaaaaaaan't get into it. I have tried really.

message 8: by Dustin (new) - added it

Dustin Delee wrote: "How mad will you be if I scrap this for now? I just caaaaaaaaaaaaaaan't get into it. I have tried really."

:( I'm sorry you're unable to get into it, Delee..

message 9: by Delee (new) - added it

Delee Me too...I hate abandoning group reads...and even more- one chosen by Ms. Thaaaaang here.

message 10: by Dustin (new) - added it

Dustin I hate abandoning books, period. Especially groups reads. But if you're not enjoying it, don't force yourself.

Stepheny Totally fine, D! It's quite alright my dear.

message 12: by Ivonne (new)

Ivonne Rovira Delee wrote: "Me too...I hate abandoning group reads...and even more- one chosen by Ms. Thaaaaang here."

Delee, you've taken the words right out of my mouth. It's nearly the end of November, and I'm no farther along than I was in the first week. [hangs head in shame]

message 13: by Dustin (new) - added it

Dustin Don't feel bad, guys..

message 14: by Ivonne (new)

Ivonne Rovira Your review took my breath away. I enjoyed it much more than the book itself. (Can you forgive me?)

message 15: by Lisa (new) - rated it 1 star

Lisa Wonderful, honest review, Steph! Please don't feel bad about choosing this book! How boring would it be if every month we had nothing to say except, "YAAAAAAYYYYY!!!!!!!!!". Right? Wait until you hear what I have in mind for Feb, ha! Then you might not feel so bad ;)

Randee Love your heartfelt review and I share your anger. It was tough to find any redeeming qualities in this family. This is a good book for discussion and the classroom. Each of the Mulvaney's were not only out of touch with their feelings, they each chose to run away from them. Nothing is healed or solved by such behavior. It was wrenching and exhausting, but I guess that's better than indifference. I'd rather read a book that makes me mad than bores me.

Stepheny @Ivonne- Aw! You are so kind to say so! And yes, of course, I can forgive you! It's totally fine!

@Lisa- Thanks!! You are so very right! :D I can't wait for February!! LOL

@Randee- I am glad to know I am not alone in my anger. You are absolutely right! And I agree- a boring book is the last thing I ever want!

message 18: by Delee (new) - added it

Delee I skimmed over your review- because when life settles down I still have every intention of reading this..and the fact it pissed you off (that I can see from what I did read of your I am now even more intrigued... And yes- boring is baaaaaaaad.

message 19: by Dustin (new) - added it

Dustin Stepheny, you know that I truly adore your reviews with every fiber of my being, and this is CERTAINLY no exception. There aren't enough words in the world for me to convey to you just how much I love this review, how deeply it speaks to my soul. And I couldn't agree more that JCO should be applauded (HIGHLY, imo,) for invoking such powerful emotions in you. You also know that our love and deep admiration for the author are pretty much equal, I'd say, and due to your phenomenal review, I really MUST read this, now more than ever, if merely for curiosity's sake. Thank you!!!!

message 20: by Lisa (new) - rated it 1 star

Lisa Dustin, there aren't enough words to convey how much I love your comments!!! They just don't make guys like you anymore. You must have been a chivalrous knight in your past life!

message 21: by Dustin (new) - added it

Dustin Aww, thank you so much, Lisa!! I can only speak the truth, from my heart. You're incredibly kind!:)

Kandice Great review, Steph! Please don't feel bad for recommending it! I echo Randee's opinion, "Mad is better than bored!" I know The Mulvaneys will stick with me for a long time.

message 23: by Ivonne (new)

Ivonne Rovira Lisa wrote: "You must have been a chivalrous knight in your past life! "

And in this one, too! ;-)

message 24: by Lisa (new) - rated it 1 star

Lisa true!!!! :)

message 25: by Dustin (new) - added it

Dustin Ivonne wrote: "Lisa wrote: "You must have been a chivalrous knight in your past life! "

And in this one, too! ;-)"

Ivonne, thank you so much!!:)

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