I finally finished “We Were The Mulvaneys” and it was a wild ride. There were times when I didn’t want to read the book at all; not because I didn’t enjoy it–Oates’ writing is phenomenal–it was more the emotional ride I didn’t want to take part in. There are so many themes in this book, I had to break them down to really comprehend.
Corrine and Mike Mulvaney live a picturesque farm-life in Mt. Ephraim, New York (upstate New York). They have four children: Mike Jr., Patrick, Marianne, and Judd. The family owns several animals, including dogs, cats, horses, and one bird (Feathers). Mike Sr. is a successful business owner (Mulvaney Roofing). Corrine is a stay-at-home-mom and runs her own business, High Point Antiques. The family’s farm, High Point Farm, is the perfect place to raise a good ole’ Christian American family.
Post #MeToo Reading “We Were The Mulvaneys” during (and I guess after) the Me Too movement made this book harder to accept. This book was published in 1996 and in 2002 there was a movie adaptation, so if I spoil anything here, not my concern. We learn very early on that a traumatic event has taken place. Oates hints to this, and while we have an idea, she doesn’t state it for some time. Marianne Mulvaney is sexually assaulted by a classmate of one of her older brothers. To be clear, I liked the book; there’s something about family and secrets that we can relate to. However, I was angry while reading the because Marianne doesn’t tell anyone about the assault at first. She hides it for sometime until her emotions get the better of her. Marianne convinced herself that *it was sorta, kinda* her fault because she was drinking. No. *It was sorta, kinda* her faulty because she agreed to go with Zachary Lundt to his car. No. It was the fault of the rapist. PeriodT.
Individual Trauma and Family Trauma I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand why Corrine didn’t stand up for her daughter when Mike Sr. said he could look at her. The daughter who he loved dearly was assaulted and he couldn’t protect her, nor avenge her, so he requested she be removed. So Corrine, the dutiful Christian wife, packed Marianne a bag and sent her to live miles away with Aunt Ethel. I was heartbroken. It’s easier said than done, this I know, but in a time of fear, traumatic-living, I thought the best place for Marianne was to live with family, surrounded by those she loved. Yes, she had become the shell of the former person she was, but for obvious reasons. Yes, the family had be hurt and couldn’t understand how something like this could happen to them, they were the Mulvaneys. But the first blow was the assault, the second was Marianne leaving to live somewhere else.
Adult Siblings As each child come into their own, they left. It seemed sad, but it wasn’t really. Everyone must live their own life, however that life comes together. It seems for Patrick and Marianne (separately) stumbled for a bit, but eventually found their footing. On the outside, it’s sad, but on the inside everyone knows that the love is still there even if adult siblings don’t get the chance to speak on a regular basis. Life happens.
Christianity vs. Mental Health The most annoying character for me was the mom, Corrine Malvaney. Throughout the book, I felt that she was presented with several chances to make good decisions, but she consistently chose the opposite. For example, when her husband broke down and said I can’t look at her [Marianne]. It was obvious to the reader that Corrine should have responded simply with “well she’s our daughter.” Instead, she cosigns Marianne’s move outside of the house and ultimately to familial exile. Oates describes Corrine as a faithful Christian who believes strongly that prayer will solve all problems. But prayer without works is dead. I kept wondering if Corrine suffered from some sort of mental health disorder, but I realized that she was probably in denial about the assault and the breakup of her family. Trauma can cause people to behave in mysterious ways and Corrine absolutely displayed the characteristics of someone stuck in a traumatic time in their life. When Corrine learned of Marianne’s assault, we could practically feel her comforting herself–and family–saying “it’ll be alright, it’ll be alright.” So, for years, as everything seemed to break down, I guess Corrine told herself, it’ll be alright.
Male Ego It’s dangerous.
I loved this book. I was drawn into the Mulvaney family. I could practically see Feathers (the bird) and feel the comfort of farm live, mind you I’m a city girl. If you’re looking for something to fall into, this is definitely heart tugging read.
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