Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats
Friday, August 20, 2010
"We Were the Mulvaneys" by Joyce Carol Oates
Book club tonight was grand. We've started small, with only three members, but I still enjoyed the heck out of it. For where two or three are gathered together discussing books, there I am in the midst of them.
Lydia's pick for our first meeting was We Were the Mulvaneys. I have been meaning to read this book for years. Oddly enough for a literary amnesiac, I remember exactly when I decided I needed to read it. I was on an airplane, and the girl sitting next to me was reading. I kept surreptitiously sneaking glances at her book and reading what I could (I wonder if she knew? I tried not to be obvious) and was hooked by what I saw at the end of one chapter.
As I read the book this week I tried, but failed, to find exactly what it was that had caught my attention. It could very well have been the narrator's unspoken thought, "Did you know, Marianne: how by breaking the code that day, you broke it forever? For us all?" But I can't be sure if that was it.
Speaking of the narrator, he is supposed to be a 30-year-old man, but I couldn't get past the idea that the story sounds like it is related in a girl's voice. (I wonder if I would have had the same problem if I hadn't known the author is a woman.) There were so many exclamation points! That was the problem. No man--much less one who writes for a newspaper--is going to write so excitedly that he uses at least one exclamation point on every page. It got so that those exclamation points jumped out at me and poked me in the eyes.
And then the narrator was unrealistically omniscient. He knew all kinds of things that there's no way he could have known. He attempts to explain this away, but I remained unconvinced. Oates would have done better to not introduce a narrator at all. Or, this book may be one that would have worked well with multiple narrators taking turns with each chapter.
I was also disappointed that I did not get to hear what Patrick would have said in his valedictorian speech. I'd been curious to know whether he would use his speech as a means of revenge, delivering a scathing polemic, or if he would take the easy way out and keep it harmless and inoffensive. We speculated at book club that he never even wrote a speech.
As for the trouble that each of the Mulvaneys grappled with in their own way, I couldn't help but wonder: did Corinne think that, by her decision and actions, she was saving her marriage? Instead, she destroyed her family, and she never seemed to see that. None of us at book club could relate to the way she and Mike handled the situation, and it was almost as hard to understand Marianne's forgiving acceptance of both the ostracism and the undeserved guilt.
Going into the last section of the book before the epilogue, it seemed that the sheaf of remaining pages was too flimsy to form a satisfactory resolution. I felt just like Margaret Lea reading her first Vida Winter book, fearing that there weren't enough pages remaining for the promised thirteenth tale. I dreaded what I foresaw as a non-resolution like "and so, life sucked, but it went on." So I was pleased to find that I was content with the ending, and the hope and healing represented there.
On the other hand, at the end of the book I merely had a sense of relief that it was over instead of that great feeling of ahhhh, that was good. I didn't hate the book, though I didn't love it, either. But it was worth reading, if only to quench years of curiosity.