2 words that describe the book―Family implosion
3 setting where the book took place or characters I met
- Setting: Mt. Ephraim, New York, with the story spanning from 1976 until 1999
- Marianne Mulvaney is the only daughter in the big boisterous Mulvaney family. Religious and sensitive, Marinanne is a pretty and popular girl who is fond of her three brothers, a good daughter to her mother, and beloved by her father. When something bad happens to Marianne after a Valentine’s Day dance, the repercussions tear the family apart and thrust Marianne out into the the big, cold world with only her faith and the love for her family to keep her whole.
- Judd Mulvaney is the youngest of the Mulvaney boys. Only a small child when events tear his family asunder, Judd attempts to make his family whole again by telling the Mulvaney family history and bringing the love that they have kept hidden back out into the open.
4 things I liked or disliked about the book
- I liked all the little details of family life that Oates brings into the story―from the family bulletin board in the kitchen to the way the family uses the main staircase. These details brought the book alive and made it feel authentic and real.
- I liked how Oates takes her time telling the story of the Mulvaney family. The family is split apart so completely that bridging the chasms that have grown up between them would have to take place slowly and gradually. Oates handles this story of family forgiveness and division delicately and realistically, with all the steps forward and backward such a reconciliation would take.
- I liked how Oates created the feel and personality of a small town, where everyone knows everyone’s business and you are defined by your place within the community, who your siblings are, and where your home is located. Just like in Richard Russo’s Empire Falls, the town of Mt. Ephraim becomes a presence in the book.
- I disliked how Oates chose to have Judd be the all-knowing narrator of the book, including having a little disclaimer about how he would know the inner workings of everyone’s experiences and minds. I just didn’t think this device was needed and was a bit distracting. It seemed to me the book would have worked just as well (if not better) with a multiple narrator format. In addition, every so often there would be this jarring use of exclamation points, which started to really get under my skin.
5 stars or less for my rating:
I’m giving the book 3.5 stars (saw flashes of genius but didn’t work for me). I wanted to like this book so much more than I did. I often felt like the story was plodding along. Although I give Oates credit for writing a realistic portrayal of family life and reconciliation, I found myself getting antsy at the mid-point of the book. Plus it bothered me that we’d spend a long time with some of the characters, and then they’d just disappear for extended periods. This was my first Joyce Carol Oates book, and I don’t know how representative it is of her writing. I know she is revered as An Important Author, but I just didn’t get drawn into this book as I thought I might. However, if you like realistic portrayals of family life and love (with all its shades and nuances), this book might be very rewarding for you.
The Whys and Wheres: I got this book at a library book sale last year because I signed up for the Awesome Authors challenge and felt I should read a Joyce Carol Oates book at some point in my life. Based on this book, I don’t think I would add Oates to my list of favorite authors, but I know she has written a gazillion books so I should probably give her another try before passing final judgment. Any suggestions from Oates fans out there?
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