We Were The Mulvaneys

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We Were The Mulvaneys

by Joyce Carol Oates

Penguin Publishing Group | January 24, 2001 | Trade Paperback

We Were The Mulvaneys is rated 2.9 out of 5 by 10.
A New York Times Notable Book and a former Oprah Book Club® selection

Moving away from the dark tone of her more recent masterpieces, Joyce Carol Oates turns the tale of a family struggling to cope with its fall from grace into a deeply moving and unforgettable account of the vigor of hope and the power of love to prevail over suffering. The Mulvaneys of High Point Farm in Mt. Ephraim, New York, are a large and fortunate clan, blessed with good looks, abundant charisma, and boundless promise. But over the twenty-five year span of this ambitious novel, the Mulvaneys will slide, almost imperceptibly at first, from the pinnacle of happiness, transformed by the vagaries of fate into a scattered collection of lost and lonely souls. It is the youngest son, Judd, now an adult, who attempts to piece together the fragments of the Mulvaneys'' former glory, seeking to uncover and understand the secret violation that occasioned the family''s tragic downfall. Each of the Mulvaneys endures some form of exile--physical or spiritual--but in the end they find a way to bridge the chasms that have opened up among them, reuniting in the spirit of love and healing. Profoundly cathartic, Oates'' acclaimed novel unfolds as if, in the darkness of the human spirit, she has come upon a source of light at its core. Rarely has a writer made such a startling and inspiring statement about the value of hope and compassion.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 464 pages, 9 × 6 × 1.25 in

Published: January 24, 2001

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0452282829

ISBN - 13: 9780452282827

Found in: Fiction and Literature
Appropriate for ages: 18 - 18

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Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best book club read. Our club has read 19 books, and this was my favourite by far. My favourite character is Patrick, the egghead, he was attempting to get the family to relate to one another from the start. He and Marianne became close because they knew that there was another life beyond the Mulvaney Farm. Patrick's act of mercy was the turning point of the book, and a place for all the family to start anew. Another favourite was the whole page Ms Oates takes to describe what Corinne was wearing and how she looked like at the graduation. The polka dot dress is still in my mind. This is a slow read and may be this way so that we can take our time to enjoy the beautiful story. I have read Joyce Carol Oates book of short stories recently..The Museum of Dr. Moses..just read the first story here.. and had a great laugh, this is why I suggested the group read ..The Mulvaneys... This was not for the quick readers in our group. Suzanne...
Date published: 2015-04-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from What a waste of time This book took me a long time to struggle though. It was very painful to read. It felt as though the author was going one way and then switched and went another. I finished it, but I wasn't happy with it.
Date published: 2005-08-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from We Were the Mulvaneys This was the most painful read. Oprah! What were you thinking? It took me 3 months to finish this book, and only because I started to read it. The last chapter was a bit bearable, slight positive emotion, and then - the end. Absolutely a waste of time, dragged on and on about nothing. First and last Oprah's pick I will every read.
Date published: 2005-08-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Family Warmth to Family Pain The family in this novel starts out being a comfortable warm place to be. Then it goes slowly more and more down, down. The reader senses the discomfort of the narrator/family member. Why does the mother put up with the father's distance from his children? She sides with him against her own children by allowing him to keep her away from the children too. This was not explained or resolved. The family starts out enjoying each others company and in the end become distanced from each other (physically and emotionally). The book ends in gloom, without hope. I kept waiting for some thing to happen to force them to face each other but it never happened. What a gloomy read!
Date published: 2002-10-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Expected better I have read some of Oprah's picks, but this book really wasn't up to par compared to the others. Oates is a good writer, but I wasn't drawn into the book as I expected myself to be. It could have been a lot shorter with having the same effect as Oates intended. In all, I think this book was poor-average. The characters were interesting and well developed, but her point of view felt very skewed while I was reading.
Date published: 2001-05-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Predictable and Boring "We Were The Mulvaneys" was a big disappointment. This is the first time I have read anything by JCO and if it's indicative of her writing style it will be the last! Long, run-on sentances and thoughts that are dis-jointed and misplaced. I struggled through this book and rolled my eyes at the end. The title and first few pages predict the ending about this boring family with an exaggerated sense of self-importance. No epic or sweeping saga here.
Date published: 2001-04-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from COMPELLING FAMILY SAGA I found this to be one of the finest and most profound books I have read in a long time. The added bonus was that when I went to CHAPTERS to look for the book, not only did they have a large stock of it, but it was on sale at 30% off!"We Were the Mulvaneys" is a grand and sweeping family saga. I felt as if I were a member of this family as Joyce Carol Oates makes her characters come to life. The lesson to be learned from this story is to never take your life for granted. The Mulvaneys' life appears to be a full and happy one until a tragic incident occurs that turns their world upside down. Never have I read such a book that makes a "startling and inspiring statement about the value of hope and compassion". I didn't want this book to end.
Date published: 2001-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I couldn't put it down!!!! I loved the book from the start to the finish. It was so well described both in emotions and the surroundings of wherever the story was being told from. I had to keep telling myself that is was a work of fiction. I wanted someone to shake the family, to make them understand or receive outside help to help resolve the emotional anger that was destroying the home. I felt so badly for Marianne who kept everyone at such a distance that no one could love her as a person. I was thrilled that she ended up where she did with animals and a wonderful man in her life. As a parent who went through difficult times with my child I felt I was in a fog like Corinne. She always thought things would turn around. They did but just about too late. I am glad I came out of the fog way before Corinne did. I loved the ending. I was so glad they reunited and found love between each other. I am going to read another one of her books. Looking forward to it.
Date published: 2001-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellence in Writing Seldom have I felt so much a part of the story as I did with the Mulvaney family. Despite the lengthy prose throughout I felt Joyce Carol Oates wrote from her heart to make the reader feel a part of the story. This book takes us on one family's journey through life and shows the reader how one decision made by Corrine and Mike Mulvaney changed the whole course of their family history. Throughout the story I felt a part of each family member's sadness and joy. I found myself rooting for Marianne and wanting to throw something at big Mike. A book that evoked so much emotion in my mind is a sign of a truly gifted writer.
Date published: 2001-03-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from boring This book was extremely boring. I read 2/3 of it and I had to abandon it , the author gave too many details about everything and made the book too long, I`m sure she could have shortened it by at least 100 pages. A complete waste of my time. Too bad because it could have been a very interesting story if only Carol Oates would have made the caracters less depressed.
Date published: 2001-03-13

– More About This Product –

We Were The Mulvaneys

by Joyce Carol Oates

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 464 pages, 9 × 6 × 1.25 in

Published: January 24, 2001

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0452282829

ISBN - 13: 9780452282827

Read from the Book

We were the Mulvaneys, remember us? You may have thought our family was larger, often I''d meet people who believed we Mulvaneys were a virtual clan, but in fact there were only six of us: my dad who was Michael John Mulvaney, Sr., my mom Corinne, my brothers Mike Jr. and Patrick and my sister Marianne, and me—Judd. From summer 1955 to spring 1980 when my dad and mom were forced to sell the property there were Mulvaneys at High Point Farm, on the High Point Road seven miles north and east of the small city of Mt. Ephraim in upstate New York, in the Chautauqua Valley approximately seventy miles south of Lake Ontario. High Point Farm was a well-known property in the Valley, in time to be designated a historical landmark, and "Mulvaney" was a well-known name. For a long time you envied us, then you pitied us. For a long time you admired us, then you thought Good!—that''s what they deserve. "Too direct, Judd!"—my mother would say, wringing her hands in discomfort. But I believe in uttering the truth, even if it hurts. Particularly if it hurts. For all of my childhood as a Mulvaney I was the baby of the family. To be the baby of such a family is to know you''re the last little caboose of a long roaring train. They loved me so, when they paid any attention to me at all. I was like a creature dazed and blinded by intense, searing light that might suddenly switch off and leave me in darkness. I couldn''t seem to figure out who I was, if I had an actual name, or many
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From the Publisher

A New York Times Notable Book and a former Oprah Book Club® selection

Moving away from the dark tone of her more recent masterpieces, Joyce Carol Oates turns the tale of a family struggling to cope with its fall from grace into a deeply moving and unforgettable account of the vigor of hope and the power of love to prevail over suffering. The Mulvaneys of High Point Farm in Mt. Ephraim, New York, are a large and fortunate clan, blessed with good looks, abundant charisma, and boundless promise. But over the twenty-five year span of this ambitious novel, the Mulvaneys will slide, almost imperceptibly at first, from the pinnacle of happiness, transformed by the vagaries of fate into a scattered collection of lost and lonely souls. It is the youngest son, Judd, now an adult, who attempts to piece together the fragments of the Mulvaneys'' former glory, seeking to uncover and understand the secret violation that occasioned the family''s tragic downfall. Each of the Mulvaneys endures some form of exile--physical or spiritual--but in the end they find a way to bridge the chasms that have opened up among them, reuniting in the spirit of love and healing. Profoundly cathartic, Oates'' acclaimed novel unfolds as if, in the darkness of the human spirit, she has come upon a source of light at its core. Rarely has a writer made such a startling and inspiring statement about the value of hope and compassion.

About the Author

In addition to many prize-winning and bestselling novels, including We Were the Mulvaneys, Black Water, and Because It Is Bitter and Because It Is My Heart (available in Plume editions), Joyce Carol Oates is the author of a number of works of gothic fiction including Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque (Plume), a 1995 World Fantasy Award nominee; and Zombie (Plume), winner of the 1996 Bram Stoker Award for Best Horror Novel, awarded by the Horror Writers'' Association. In 1994, Oates received the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award in Horror Fiction. She is the editor of American Gothic Tales and her latest novel is Broke Heart Blues (Dutton). She lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Editorial Reviews

"It will consume you.”--The Washington Post Book World

“New testimony to Oates'' great intelligence and dead-on imaginative powers. It is a book that will break your heart, heal it, then break it again every time you think about it.”--Los Angeles Times Book Review

“What keeps us coming back to Oates Country is her uncanny gift of making the page a window, with something happening on the other side that we’d swear was like life itself.”--The New York Times Book Review

“A major achievement that stands with Oates’ finest studies of American life...the novel is a testament to the tenacious bonds of the family, the restorative power of love and capacity to endure and prevail.”--The Chicago Tribune

Employee Review

This Oprah pick is an intricate tale of life in upstate New York. Oates creates characters that you love, and ones that you will come to pity immensely. Life is grand for the Mulvaney family until a tragedy befalls one of its members. From here on, things takes a drastic turn and the demise of the family begins. The descriptions of the landscape and area make you feel like you've been there before, and the characters seem like people you know. A great read.

Bookclub Guide

INTRODUCTION

In We Were the Mulvaneys, Joyce Carol Oates writes with piercing clarity and deep sympathy of the dissolution of the American family—and an American way of life. The Mulvaneys—parents Mike and Corinne, children Mikey Jr., Patrick, Marianne, and Judd—seemed to lead an almost charmed life on their rambling farm outside a small town in upstate New York (familiar Oates territory). Mike owned a successful roofing company; Corinne kept the semi-chaotic household bustling through the sheer force of her good humor (and devout Christianity); animals—horses, cats, dogs—thrived alongside the kids, although none was immune to the occasional scrape.

And then on Valentine''s Day in 1976, a high school senior raped the Mulvaneys'' beautiful, kind, sweet-natured daughter Marianne, and the bottom fell out of their world. Oates deftly, heartbreakingly traces the impact of the rape on each member of this family, exposing how swiftly and irrevocably good can be dragged down and corrupted into evil. The once-popular, respected Marianne becomes a kind of pariah, abandoned by her friends and pushed away by her parents. Her father, overwhelmed by grief and anger, lets the business slide, alienates former friends, and devotes himself to alcohol and law suits. Mikey Jr. distances himself from the family and from his former life by joining the Marines. Patrick, the family egg-head, at first retreats into his coldly rational fascination with Darwin and the theory of evolution, but once he''s at Cornell becomes obsessed with a scheme to avenge Marianne. With Judd, the book''s narrator, as his accomplice, Patrick stalks and abducts the boy who raped Marianne. The power of life and death is in Patrick''s hands, and yet when the crucial moment comes, he refuses to act on his power. Patrick''s act of mercy stands as an emotional and thematic turning point of the book, though the resolution is far from simple or painless.

As in previous works, Oates here covers many years and retraces the complicated, twisting paths that bring her characters to their present plight. But We Were the Mulvaneys departs from earlier works in the brilliance and vividness with which it evokes the tensions and pleasures of family life and family relationships. The Mulvaneys manage to be both "every family" and minutely realized individuals with their own quirky obsessions and personal tragedies. The book is also packed with the images and ideas of the decades it covers—the music, products, politics, social norms, and mores of the late 1950s through the early 1990s. This large, sharply etched, immensely readable book is an examination of the American dream, and of the harsh but also beautiful realities that have transformed that dream over those past four decades.

We Were the Mulvaneys is at once a rich textured novel of family life and love (including the abiding love of animals) and a profound discourse on themes of free will, evolution, gender, class, spirituality, forgiveness, and the nature and purpose of guilt. A master of her craft, Oates weaves a seamless web in which ideas blend perfectly with plot.

 


ABOUT JOYCE CAROL OATES

Joyce Carol Oates has often expressed an intense nostalgia for the time and place of her childhood, and her working-class upbringing is lovingly recalled in much of her fiction. Yet she has also admitted that the rural, rough-and-tumble surroundings of her early years involved a "daily scramble for existence." Growing up in the countryside outside of Lockport, New York, she attended a one-room schoolhouse in the elementary grades. As a small child, she told stories instinctively by way of drawing and painting before learning how to write. After receiving the gift of a typewriter at age fourteen, she began consciously training herself, "writing novel after novel" throughout high school and college.

Success came early: while attending Syracuse University on scholarship, she won the coveted Mademoiselle fiction contest. After graduating as valedictorian, she earned an M.A. in English at the University of Wisconsin, where she met and married Raymond J. Smith after a three-month courtship; in 1962, the couple settled in Detroit, a city whose erupting social tensions suggested to Oates a microcosm of the violent American reality. Her finest early novel, them, along with a steady stream of other novels and short stories, grew out of her Detroit experience. "Detroit, my ''great'' subject," she has written, "made me the person I am, consequently the writer I am—for better or worse."

Between 1968 and 1978, Oates taught at the University of Windsor in Canada, just across the Detroit river. During this immensely productive decade, she published new books at the rate of two or three per year, all the while maintaining a full-time academic career. Though still in her thirties, Oates had become one of the most respected and honored writers in the United States. Asked repeatedly how she managed to produce so much excellent work in a wide variety of genres, she gave variations of the same basic answer, telling The New York Times in 1975 that "I have always lived a very conventional life of moderation, absolutely regular hours, nothing exotic, no need, even, to organize my time." When a reporter labeled her a "workaholic," she replied, "I am not conscious of working especially hard, or of ''working'' at all. Writing and teaching have always been, for me, so richly rewarding that I don''t think of them as work in the usual sense of the word."

In 1978, Oates moved to Princeton, New Jersey, where she continues to teach in Princeton University''s creative writing program; she and her husband also operate a small press and publish a literary magazine, The Ontario Review. Shortly after arriving in Princeton, Oates began writing Bellefleur, the first in a series of ambitious Gothic novels that simultaneously reworked established literary genres and reimagined large swaths of American history. Published in the early 1980s, these novels marked a departure from the psychological realism of her earlier work. But Oates returned powerfully to the realistic mode with ambitious family chronicles (You Must Remember This, Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart), novels of female experience (Solstice, Marya: A Life), and even a series of pseudonymous suspense novels (published under the name "Rosamond Smith") that again represented a playful experiment with literary genre. As novelist John Barth once remarked, "Joyce Carol Oates writes all over the aesthetical map." In 2000, Oates was a National Book Award finalist in fiction for Blonde, an ambitious and imaginative portrait of one of America''s greatest cultural icons, Marilyn Monroe.

The dramatic trajectory of Oates''s career, especially her amazing rise from an economically straitened childhood to her current position as one of the world''s most eminent authors, suggests a feminist, literary version of the mythic pursuit and achievement of the American dream. Yet for all of her success and fame, Oates''s daily routine of teaching and writing has changed very little, and her commitment to literature as a transcendent human activity remains steadfast. Not surprisingly, a quotation from that other prolific American writer, Henry James, is affixed to the bulletin board over her desk, and perhaps best expresses her own ultimate view of life and writing: "We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art."

 


AN INTERVIEW WITH JOYCE CAROL OATES

What was the germ of the book? Was there a single scene or character or theme that inspired you to write it?

Primarily, I wanted to write about family life—the mysterious and seemingly autonomous "life" of the family that is made up of individuals yet seems to transcend individuals; the joys, the sorrows, the continuity of jokes and humor; the shared pain; the conflicted yearning for freedom simultaneous with the yearning for domesticity; always, the unspeakable mystery at the heart of the family. I wanted to write about complex lives as they are interwoven with one another, always defining themselves in terms of one another.

Which one of the Mulvaneys is your favorite character?

It''s hard to answer—Marianne, Patrick, Judd, and Corinne are all favorites. Emotionally, I identified with Marianne; intellectually, with Patrick and Judd. My earlier sense of Patrick was that he would prove to be more violent, a terrorist, in a sense, obsessed with exacting justice for his family. But, as Patrick evolved, and came into his own, I saw that he was really a very civilized and judicious young man for whom "an eye for an eye" would be far too primitive a mode of justice.

Corinne, the mother of the family, is such a totally real woman—a mother all of us have known and remember from our childhoods. Is she modeled on any particular woman you have known? On your own mother?

Corinne is only partly modeled after several mothers of my acquaintance, including my own, Carolina Oates. These women are quintessentially maternal: warm, funny, immensely hard-working, generous, identified with their families to the suppression of their own personalities for long periods of their lives. I recall fondly how my mother helped me plant fruits and vegetables—especially a strawberry patch terribly prone to weeds. We lived north of Buffalo, on a small farm, much smaller than the Mulvaneys'', and much less affluent. We had pigs for a while, and always chickens and cats. No horses, unfortunately.

Corinne is so close to Marianne. And then she totally rejects her daughter after the rape—why?

Corinne does not reject Marianne. She chooses her husband over her daughter out of desperation and must live with that choice. But she never ceases loving, and grieving over, Marianne, the child most like herself.

When the Mulvaneys'' fall comes, it happens so fast. One day they''re riding high and the next they''re in the gutter—the American gutter of violence, homelessness, paranoia, law suits. Was there any way they could have averted their family tragedy?

If Michael Sr. had behaved differently, the Mulvaney tragedy would not have occurred. In the past, laws concerning rape and sexual assault were not as liberal as they are today in most states. Marianne knew that it would have been futile to press charges under the circumstances.

Do you think of this as a feminist novel?

The novel is not basically feminist; it has no ideology; it is a story about individuals, not a tract. Marianne exemplifies the way of love, magnanimity and forgiveness; Patrick, the way of intellectual analysis. In general terms, the tension is between a belief in Christianity and a belief in Darwinism: the one so spiritual, the other so intransigent in its physicality. In the end, through the experience of simply living, Patrick comes around to a spiritual transformation—the way of the community, living with others instead of in isolation. He overcomes his resentment and anger and falls in love at last, deeply and without calculation. And belatedly, he discovers his "Mulvaney-ness."

The center section of the book is so dark and yet it ends on a note of hope and resolution. Where did this ending come from? Did you consider concluding on a darker note?

This is life, generations following generations. The destructive father is gone, and will be remembered, ironically, with affection. Old wounds are forgotten in the excitement and enthusiasm of the future. To be true to life, a novel must have an ending that is inevitable given the specific personalities of the characters involved. The novelist must not impose an ending upon them. What might have been a tragedy in We Were the Mulvaneys becomes something quite different, yet to my mind this bittersweet ending is inevitable.

What about Marianne? She seemed to be heading towards a tragic fate and yet she ends up happy and fulfilled.

Marianne, lacking bitterness, is the sort of a young woman to inspire affection and love in others. Always, people are drawn to young women like Marianne; for her, it was a matter of accepting herself as not despoiled, a matter of her coming to like herself once again. She was fortunate to find just the right man to appreciate her, shrewd Whit West with his background of treating wounded and abused animals. Whit was canny enough to know how to love her without scaring her off.

Animals play a tremendously important part in the book—in a sense the Mulvaneys communicate and love through their animals. Have animals always been important to you? Did you have some larger message in mind that you wanted to express through animals?

I''ve always loved animals, and have lived with them all my life. As a child I had kittens and cats, and tended quite a large brood of Rhode Island reds (chickens). I''ve never before written about the emotional interdependence of human beings and animals, though it has been so much a part of my life (and the lives of many of my friends). I hoped to show, in the novel, the intensely connected parallel lives of people and animals. For Marianne, obviously, Muffin is far more than merely a cat; he''s her deepest connection to her family and her girlhood, almost an aspect of her soul. In families with animals, there is always tragedy: animals age more quickly than we do, and their lives run out before our eyes. How difficult it is to speak of the secret meaning of animals without sounding sentimental . . . Yet it was a risk I was willing to take in order to tell the story of the Mulvaneys.

What about the house and farm? What is their meaning in the book?

Of course it''s a profound shock to lose one''s house, one''s farm and identity. And one''s trees . . . the spiritual connectedness between people and trees is quite emotional, too. I''ve always lived in a place with a lot of trees. When you lose your trees, you have lost beauty and solace and protection.

Why did you choose Judd, the youngest of the Mulvaneys, to narrate the story? Was it difficult to have him tell so much about the interior lives of characters he did not always understand?

Judd imagines but does not invent. He''s the intellectual and moral center of the novel, as it is presented in terms of language. It''s fitting that he''s a newspaper editor and writer. Many people in families feel themselves in repositories of the family narrative—as Judd says, he is assembling a kind of family album, not writing a "confession."

Is this one of your favorite books?

We Were the Mulvaneys is perhaps the novel closest to my heart. I think of it as a valentine to a passing way of American life, and to my own particular child—and girlhood in upstate New York. Everyone in the novel is enormously close to me, including Marianne''s cat, Muffin, who was in fact my own cat. One writes to memorialize, and to bring to life again that which has been lost.

 


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • After the rape, Marianne keeps repeating, "I am as much to blame as he is." Does the narrative back this assertion up in any way? How much does Oates actually reveal about what happened that night?
     
  • Both parents reject their daughter after the rape. Why? How are their reasons different? Are we meant to condemn both of them for their cruelty to Marianne? Or is their action somehow understandable and forgivable?
     
  • What role does the farm play in the life of this family? Is Oates making some larger point about the difficulties and tragedies of the family farm in American society?
     
  • Why is it Patrick—the scientist, the cold rationalist—who acts to "execute justice" on Marianne''s rapist?
     
  • Animals are at the heart of the Mulvaney family—they not only love their cats, dogs, birds, and horses, they love each other and communicate with each other through their animals. Is this a family strength, or does it reveal something skewed in the family emotional dynamic? Have they in a sense glorified their animals by playing up their "cuddly" loving qualities and overlooking their darker instincts? Does their connection with the animals change after Marianne is raped?
     
  • Darwin and the theory of evolution are discussed at several points in the novel. What point is Oates trying to make with this? How does Darwinian evolution relate to the central incident of the book?
     
  • Marianne is a Christian and Patrick is a rationalist—yet theirs is a bond that remains most intact after the rape. Are their worldviews more closely related than either of them believes? Or does the rape and its consequences somehow reconcile them not only emotionally but intellectually and spiritually as well?
     
  • If Marianne''s rape happened today instead of in the mid-1970s, would the impact on the family and on her life have been very different? What if the Mulvaney?s lived in a big city instead of in a small town—would the rape have a different "meaning"?
     
  • Does the novel''s ending in a joyous family reunion come as a shock after so much misery and heartbreak? Is this meant to be a lasting redemption?
     
  • Does Oates encourage a traditional good-and-evil reading of her novel? Or does she lead us to reexamine these very categories?
  • Appropriate for ages: 18 - 18