We Were the Mulvaneys


We Were the Mulvaneys is a novel written by Joyce Carol Oates and was published in 1996. We Were the Mulvaneys was featured in Oprah's Book Club in 2001.

The Mulvaneys, a family living in the small, rural town of Mt. Ephraim, New York, during the latter part of the 20th century, are the seemingly perfect family: four children, the owners of a successful roofing business, and obsessed with social status. We Were the Mulvaneys tells the tale of the demise of this perfect family—an incident that is hushed up in town and never spoken of again. It is this incident that shatters the family fabric with tragic consequences.

Plot summary

Michael and Corinne Mulvaney are the parents of four children: Michael Jr., Patrick, Marianne, and Judd. Living in a picture perfect farm in upstate New York, the Mulvaneys own a successful roofing company; Michael Mulvaney is considered a serious businessman. Corinne is a bubbly, earthy mother, whose life revolves around the family unit. For nearly twenty years the Mulvaney clan thrives, admired throughout Mt. Ephraim for being the model family.

On St. Valentine's night 1976, Marianne Mulvaney, after prom, goes to a party where she becomes intoxicated and is raped by an upperclassman, whose father is a well-respected businessman and friend of Mr. Mulvaney.

Marianne's rape is the beginning of a tumultuous fifteen-year period. Her father, lost and angry, does not understand why his daughter will not press charges against her attacker. He can no longer look at his daughter the same way and sends her to live with a distant relative of Corinne's in Salamanca. Marianne, moving haphazardly from place to place, continues to wait for her father to call on her, but he never does.

Michael Mulvaney's casual drinking turns into full-fledged alcoholism. Gradually, his reputation as a respected businessman disintegrates. The Mulvaneys are forced into bankruptcy and must sell the farm. Eventually, Corinne and Michael split up. For the other family members, things continue to get worse. All three of the Mulvaney boys leave home angrily, never to return. One of them "executes justice" on his sister's rapist.

After many years, the Mulvaneys meet once again in a family reunion at Corinne's new home, which she shares with a friend. The family has extended to include spouses and children. Finally, the Mulvaneys come full circle and receive closure.

Film adaptation

The book was made into a Lifetime Television movie, also called We Were the Mulvaneys, in 2002 with Blythe Danner, which was nominated for three Emmys.

External links
  • We Were the Mulvaneys TV Movie
  • Oprah's Book Club Feature
  • Penguin Books Reading Guide - interview & discussion questions

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