Oh Oprah, how I hate thee. So how in the world did I end up reading this? The evil Kindle lured me in. It was on some list… OK, Oprah’s book club list. Yes, I went there. I will not be going back. Ever. Plus I have already read East of Eden and I didn’t need the queen of whatever to tell me to. Oooh, I am bitchy and I like to think book snobby. Which is really just rude, but at least I recognize that. So, We Were the Mulvaneys. I cannot even begin to relate how much I loathed this book. Everything about it. I had to fight to make it to the end. Oh, the end. That alone ratcheted up the ol’ hate o’meter by at least 50%.
So the synopsis. Part I, We are the Mulvaneys. Well off family, small town uh, New York State maybe, I don’t remember now. 3 sons, 1 daughter. Loving Mother and Father. Life on a beautiful farm, everyone is popular and does well in school. There are horses, dogs, cats, birds. It is freaking paradise. But there is something bad looming and it takes chapter after chapter after chapter of foreshadowing to finally get it out. I seriously felt like I was reading the script for General Hospital. SPIT IT OUT ALREADY. My God. On a positive note, the chapters jumped back and forth in time, back and forth from character to character and really made the narrative of this portion of the book interesting without being all timeline-y. Mind you, that is ALL that I have to say that is complimentary.
***IF you want to read this shittastick novel and want to be “surprised” stop reading this review here****
So the big build up keeps building and building and the reader totally knows what is going to happen, it is the author that drags it out to soap opera proportions. The sister is raped while out on prom night or a valentines dance whatever, not important. The dance that is. The rape sets the rest of the book into motion.
Part II and III and maybe even IV, there was for sure and Epilogue.
Soooo, the family totally falls apart because of the rape. The quiet science minded brother loses his shit and wants revenge, calling on the baby brother and narrator of the book to help him in his crime. The Father turns to the bottle, loses his business, is arrested several times, and eventually runs that family into bankruptcy and they are forced to sell the farm. The sister is exiled because of her choice not to press charges and because she was raped and no one can deal with that fact. She turns to some semi cult and then moves on as people begin to care about her. She becomes a bit of a drifter, afraid to set down roots and make deep connections (sorry to sound all “Bachelor” like). Oh, and she has this cat that she has had forever and eventually lands in some city where the cat becomes ill. So she has to take it to the vet which is on this big farm and eventually she has to put the cat to sleep. I mean the book is depressing as hell as it is, but was it really really necessary to include this? Horrible. I was a mess. The eldest brother also turns to the bottle and the whores then gets in a car accident, drunk, and paralyzes the chick he was going to propose to so he quits the family company and joins the Military. The Mom gets all Bibley and lives in total denial her family has gone to shit and is fucked up well beyond repair. The Father gets sick and dies from the drinking and smoking – that should serve as a warning to all of you ---.
In the background there is this business about Evolution vs Religion which I think was supposed to be “deep” and make the reader “think” and relate the “deep” thoughts to the larger story. That just pissed me off. Don’t be all, look how “deep” I am and look how “deep” my tragedy of a novel is. Just don’t. Plus, this is without a doubt the most dreary and depressing book ever. I wanted to scream, "go the shrink, deal with your fucking problems, stop sweeping everything under the rug." So the pages passed, my irritation grew and the book ended. Right on the same morose note of the post rape parts of the book. Fine, I was pleased with that. The family fell apart, here is the story of how this one act ruined a perfectly functional family. Great. Fair deal. Done.
Then, the Epilogue. Joyce Carol Oates jumped ahead 10, 20 years, maybe even 5. Whatever, the point is after untold pages of tragedy and misery everyone gets together for a happy family reunion on the Mother’s new farm. Seriously. All problems vanished, everyone is healthy and happy and prosperous. See, time heals all wonds! Look, the rape victim married the vet, look, the brother that was going to kill the rapist came home on a motorcycle with a girlfried, look the brother who was in the Military has a wife and a perfect family, look, the narrator is a wonderfully well adjusted newspaper man. Yea! Sunshine and roses! Happy Happy! The end. Are you FUCKING KIDDING ME? A zillion pages of untold misery and then a happy bow wrapped around a 15 page epilogue? Wow.
This book sucked it. Hard. I hated it. HATED. IT. I makes sense that Oprah loved it, it was “deep”, it made you “think”, it had that “spiritual” aspect to it, and everything worked out wonderfully in the end. I give it the finger.