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We Were the Mulvaneys

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Corinne's family is local but conspicuously absent from the Mulvaneys' lives: the cousin to whom Marianne is sent to live is not familiar to the children, and Corinne's mother, though she lives only about a hundred miles away, is never talked about except for one striking childhood memory about fireflies in winter. Taken at gunpoint to a nearby bog, Zach denies knowing what Patrick is talking about regarding the girl he raped, and he begs shamelessly to have his life spared. Perhaps Oates is suggesting that a positive outlook provides the energy necessary to transform one's life. Though the victim in the initial instance, she is punished; having learned that she is to blame, she is driven by shame to continue that punishment by denying herself good.

Patrick, who has not been back to the area since the night he abducted Zachary Lundt, has traveled from California by motorcycle with his girlfriend, showing an entirely different personality than the bookish introvert that he was when he left.

Oates’ writing goes down smoothly, as most books by experienced authors do–they’ve found and perfected their voice. While she was teaching at the University of Detroit, one of her short stories was published in the annual Best American Short Stories anthology, reinforcing her commitment to writing. The fact that High Point Farm in the novel is not used for agricultural production is an accurate reflection of the transformation that began about 1960 and continued into the early 2000s in New York State and across much of the country. Oates makes it clear, through the information she gives about his childhood and early courtship of Corinne, that Michael's behavior, though triggered by his realization that he cannot protect his daughter, is in his nature all along. Judd tries to support his mother, who accepts her husband's increasingly abusive behavior, until he decides that he cannot help her, and he makes the healthy choice of going out into the world to find his own way.

Corinne contributes domestic gifts: she sets the pace for life at High Point Farm and provides the family with its moral values. Her penchant for the occasional run-on sentence gives me uneasy flashbacks to reading Absalom, Absalom! Judd's way of dealing with his shame is to tell secrets, as a small-town newspaperman and as the narrator of this book.Even those who appreciate her seem to read each new book for evidence that her speedy literary metabolism stems from psychological compensation or glandular defect. The text centers on an ideal nuclear family consisting of mother, father, three sons, and a daughter.

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