Friday, June 20, 2008

Falling from grace

I just finished We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates. It was Fab. U. Lous. It's long-ish (about 450 pages), but it's worth every minute it takes to read, in my opinion.

The book tells the story of the Mulvaney family: handsome, successful patriarch Michael Mulvaney Sr., who owns a thriving roofing business and enjoys the friendship and contacts of many of the movers and shakers in small Mt. Ephraim, New York; blue-eyed, lithe, religious Corinne, mother to the Mulvaney clan and avid antique collector; eldest son Mike Jr., a football star at local Mt. Ephraim High School; Patrick, the brainy, analytical son who graduates valedictorian of his high school class and goes on to study on scholarship at Cornell; beautiful Marianne, a cheerleader, devout Christian, and popular student; and little Judd, who, even at his young age, exhibits a precocious charm.

The family lives with a friendly collection of animals - cats, dogs, birds, horses, cows, etc. - at gorgeous High Point Farm, a large estate with attending acreage and outbuildings. The house, painted a dreamy lavendar color (with, of course, a top-of-the-line roof) perches within vew of scenic Mt. Cataract. The family, as Judd (our narrator) will tell us, has a "talent for happiness." They are loved and respected in their community. Everyone knows the Mulvaneys.

But then something horrible happens to one of the Mulvaney clan. And the reader continues in horror as this awful event ripples outward, changing the lives of the happy family forever. Judd, recalling the events as an adult, tries to accurately document the story of the Mulvaneys' fall, their eventual re-discovery of one another, and their "special gift for happiness."

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. The characters are real. They leap off the page. The story is utterly compelling. The book is much about family, and memory, and the evolution of who you are and who you will become. The book is about God and those who believe in him and those who don't. The book is about doing what's expected of you and what is not expected. The book is about shame and public opinion, how others see you and how you see yourself. The book is about claiming your identity, recovering, moving on from tragedy.

Read this book. Amazing stuff. I will be picking up more by this author soon.


HEATHER said...

This was an Oprah book club from a few years back. I loved it when I read it and meant to read more by Joyce Carol Oates. I need to get on that. You might enjoy "Gods in Alabama" by Joshilyn Jackson, if you haven't read it.

Nicole Bradshaw said...

Thanks for the rec, Heather! I'll see if the library has "Gods in Alabama."