Completed January 31, 2015

We Were the Mulvaneys - Joyce Carol Oates

This review is way too long, and riddled with spoilers.  I need to include them in order to explain how truly awful this book is.  Please consider my review a public service announcement.




Michael and Corinne Mulvaney have four children- three sons and a daughter.  Together, they are THE MULVANEYS.  Picture flashing lights, a movie marquee, all the bells and whistles.  THE MULVANEYS are perfect.  Everybody loves them.  Everybody wants to BE them.  Life is good.


But the gravy train is about to derail, in spectacular fashion.  Daughter Marianne is savagely raped after a high school dance.  Mom and Dad have no idea what to do.  So what DO they do?  They send her away to live with a distant relative she HAS NEVER MET.  She is banished - excommunicated.  So she flits from job to job, feeling worthless, the abandoned becoming the abandoner as she flees anyone who gets too close.  Of course, Marianne never figures out that, hey, lightbulb on, I'm over 18 and I can see my family if I damn well want to.


Meanwhile, dear old Dad, for whom this banishment was supposed to be a resurrection (Mom literally having concocted this atrocity to solve all Dad's problems!) becomes a violent drunk and throws away, like yesterday's garbage, a successful business, the country club membership he was desperate to obtain, a happy marriage, the rest of his so-called family, and, ultimately, his life.  Of course, none of this is his fault!  Oh, no.  It's the country club - the same club to which he willingly sold his soul to gain entry!


Mom still believes religion is the answer to all their prayers, so while everything crumbles around her, she takes refuge in a series of nutbar churches that offer her nothing but momentary escape.


The three sons have all found havens of their own.  


Mike Jr., a recovering alcoholic who still drinks, has run to the Marines, so he's perfect again (phew!).  Patrick, who I could swear is autistic but it's never addressed so I'll never know, has a brief moment of exciting insanity and decides he's going to kill the rapist (this is the best part of the entire book) but doesn't (oh, the crushing disappointment!!!).  Patrick is capital-B brilliant, but tosses his almost-completed degree aside and finds his way, after a long voyage of self-discovery, to...California.  But none of THE MULVANEYS know this, because they don't see or hear from him in FOURTEEN YEARS.  Remarkably, no one files a missing-persons report.  Mom just figures he'll call "eventually".


Judd gets sick and tired of being the only one left to deal with belligerent Dad and clueless Mom, so he quits too.  He moves out of the house (fortunately, just before foreclosure) and manages to become a newspaper editor by sheer force of will.


and then everybody gathers for a barbecue and a softball game, and the kids are all married or in love or (Judd) buried in career, and THE MULVANEYS realize they really do love each other after all.  The End.


What a fucking train wreck.