Saturday, 5 November 2011

"We Were the Mulvaneys" - a novel by Joyce Carol Oates

Afternoons are for reading in my home.  I immerse myself in books from the Sarasota Library. They are chiefly biographies and histories.

One day last week I found myself to be bookless.  I had downloaded two books to my Tablet, (A new biography of President James Madison, and Doris Kearns Goodwin’s masterful book about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt).  But I wanted to save these for my (now postponed) trip to Australia.

Not wanting to drive downtown to our Selby Library I stopped into a local second-hand bookstore which deals mostly in paper backs.

There I picked up a book by Joyce Carol Oates.  I’d known her name, but had never read any of her works.  She is a great author, and I now “feel” that everyone else knew about her, but never told me.

The book I bought is “We Were The Mulvaneys”, published in 1996 by Plume Books.

It is set in the (fictional?) town of Mt. Ephraim, New York.  (There is a Mount Ephraim in New Jersey).

The novel is about the Mulvaney family.  They live in an old farm house just outside of town. They have horses, dogs, cats and a canary.  It’s a house which is filled with joy.

Dad, Mike Mulvaney, is a successful businessman who owns a Roofing Contractor firm.

Mum, Corrine, is a faith-filled home-maker.  She dabbles in antiques which she sells, or does not sell from an old barn.

Oldest son, Mike Jr, is a gregarious high school athlete. 

Next came Patrick, who is an A+ high school student. He has a passion for science and is cynical about his mother’s religion, but he attends Church with her without fail.

Then there is the only daughter, Marianne.  Everyone loves Marianne. She is loving, gentle, and beautiful.

The youngest child is Judd.  He is almost an afterthought. His parents announced his birth as the “caboose”. 

Judd is the narrator of this novel.

The Mulvaney family is torn when after Marianne is raped. As a popular Junior at the High School she had gone on a date with a Senior at the High School prom.  Her date is a bit of a nerd. He leaves the after-prom party but Marianne stays. Another Senior, Zach, offers her a ride home, and then rapes her.

Word gets out in the small town.  But it is not the rapist’s family who is shamed.  Rather, the town turns its back on the Mulvaneys.  

The family begins to fall apart.

Dad, feeling shamed and disgraced  by his business colleagues and associates , sends Marianne away to live with a distant cousin.

Mike Jr. leaves home and joins the Marines.

Patrick goes to Cornell University and never again comes home.

Marianne, having blamed herself for the rape, carves out a new life, with many a twist and turn.

Youngest son Judd stays at home until he and his Dad (now losing his business and descending into alcoholism and bankruptcy) have a bloody fight. Then Judd leaves home – leaving Corrine alone.

The family home is sold at auction and Dad ends up on “skid row” – destitute and desperate.  He eventually dies of cancer.

Joyce Carol Oates is a skilful and clever author.  

As I read this book I “became”  in turn Dad, Mum, Mike Jr., Patrick, Marianne, and Judd.
There is a bit of me in each of these characters.  Or perhaps there is a bit of each of these characters in me.

The huge strength of the book is in the way in which it so brilliantly portrays “family dynamics”, especially after a family has encountered violence. (The rape of Marianne is primarily an act of violence).

The book is a bit weaker when it speaks of an eventual family reunion (sans Dad), but even this coda reduced me to tears.

I hope that you will read this “classic” novel by Joyce Carol Oates.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Abusive spouses

Most days when I walk out early in the morning  I encounter C.   She is a tall, lean, and very good looking woman, about my age. She walks purposefully, and with great energy,

She is from the greater Boston area, so we often, in passing,  rejoice or lament the fate of the Boston Red Sox.

Yesterday she chose to walk with me for a couple of circuits around a local pond.  She started a conversation with "You, being a Minister, I thought I could ask you....."

At these words my heart sank a little.  I knew that something trivial (about Clerics), or serious (about her life) was coming up.

It was about her life.  She has been married for 53 years to a man who is a spendthrift and an alcoholic. A  man who is orally very abusive. She wanted my advice as to whether or not she should seek a legal separation.

I listened fairly well.  I tried to get her to tell me what she wanted.  I refused to tell her what to do.

(Inside I was thinking "Why  the hell have you put up with 53 years of misery?". But on this I kept my lips zipped.)

Later in the day I "happened" upon this link.  It helped me to get a better perspective on her dilemma.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Plymouth Brethren Sunday School memories.

On many mornings I wake up with a song on my mind – a song which will be on my lips as I walk out with my dog.

Many of these songs are from Sunday School and Children’s Meetings at Chelsea Gospel Hall on Devon Rd in Bristol U.K.  “Chelsea” was the home of a group of “saints gathered unto the name of the Lord Jesus” a.k.a. “The Plymouth Brethren”.

Although the Brethren (commonly known these days as “Peebs” ) rejected each and every Christian denomination, they often used books of “Choruses”  (simple songs – often based in Scripture) which had been published by the “Children’s Special Service Mission”  - a mostly Church of England organisation.

And it is the CSSM choruses which are often in my mind and on my tongue in the mornings.

There is the one which reads

“Sweeter as the days go by
sweeter as the days go by.
Jesus’ love is sweeter,
richer, fuller, deeper.
sweeter as the days go by”.

All well and good, except that as a five or six year old I did not hear “richer, fuller”.  Instead I heard “Richard Fuller”.  I wondered who he was.

We would sing “Dare to be a Daniel”.  The naughty children (not I, who was a prig at aged seven) would sing “Dare to be a Spaniel”.

Those same naughty children (never I) also messed around with another chorus.

It went

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus
Sweetest name I know.
Fills my very longing,
Keeps me singing as I go”.

The naughty ones would not sing “Hallelujah”.  Instead they would substitute “Have a banana”.

But even the very pious young jmp would find himself singing “I will make you vicious old men” instead of “I will make you fishers of men”

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Today's musings

1.  It’s cooled down a bit here in South West Florida.  (at 7:40 p.m. its 70f/21c -  that’s cool here).  Penne and I have been able to resume our longer walks.  We did over five miles today.

2.  Ginny C is an older woman (in her 90’s) who lives down the street.

  I  do no more than to take her newspaper from her driveway each morning and place it on a chair outside her front-door; and to take her trash and recycling bins back to her car port after the weekly collections. She is so grateful for this that you’d think that I’d accomplished some enormous and onerous task.

Ginny is so frail that you’d believe that a puff of wind would ground her.

Her legal Guardian stopped by today to let me know that Ginny had been moved to a Nursing  – by Court Order -  (for her own well being) since she is unable to fend for herself.  

This was a move that Ginny dreaded.

On one hand I am glad that the law can be invoked to give protection to the frail elderly.  On the other hand I know that Ginny would have preferred to die at home. 

I fear that the Nursing Home will seek to prolong her life -  which by her own admission is entirely boring and has little meaning.

3.  As is usual I led the weekly prayer service at Resurrection House this morning. Our little Chapel was filled to overflowing. There was such a sense of need, and such a sense of hope in that room that I got to be very teary.  My tears are often a sign of the presence of the Holy One.

4.  Later in the day my friends Gordon and John called to invite me to share in a glass of wine and some nibbles. I was glad to accept. Friends Bob and Ben were also there.  

I   have a sense of gratitude that I am not alone (as is Ginny), nor am I homeless (as are my friends at Resurrection House).

5.  I have been invited to form a Government in Greece.  My new name will be Poveanopolous.  Just kidding.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The best laid plans part two

Continued from yesterday....

I’ve been feeling just a wee bit sad today thinking that I should by now been on the ground in Australia.  But life goes on.

As you saw,  I opted yesterday to postpone my reservation with Qantas.  They had a proviso that I would have to make up the difference should prices be higher.  They are!

We are just entering into Australian Spring and Summer, and between now and next May fares are about 25% higher than I had paid.  
The next time they come down to my price range is in late May/early June 2012.

So I have asked for a refund.  I’d rather have the money in my bank account than in Qantas’ coffers!

I will think about taking the trip next year. 

As it happens, my friends Andrew and Felicity from Melbourne will be on sabbatical at Yale University, New Haven, CT next year Jan – May.  So I’ll get to see them here in the U.S.A.

Monday, 31 October 2011

The best laid plans....

If all had gone as planned I’d have been leaving my home in Sarasota about now (4:00 p.m. Monday 31st October) and heading over to Tampa International Airport.

From there I was to have flown to Sydney, Australia via Dallas/Fort Worth.  Unfortunately I had chosen to fly on Qantas  -  which airline was shut down by management for a few days.  So I’ve had to postpone -  to a date yet to be determined.

Qantas will honour my ticket at any time until mid-June 2012.  I had to cancel a railway round-trip (Sydney-Melbourne-Sydney), and a day trip out of Melbourne along the Great Cost Road.

Having Skype makes long distance calls inexpensive -  which is just as well as I was on the ‘phone to Australian numbers for just about three hours yesterday morning.

I am happy to report the staff of Countrylink (Railway) and Great West Tours (day trip) were a delight to speak with.  They were understanding and incredibly efficient in cancelling my bookings and refunding my money.

I’ve not had such good luck with the Hotel in Sydney where I was to have spent four nights.  I’ve been in touch with them by ‘phone and e-mail, but they’ve been unable to retrieve my reservations (for which I have paid).

It’s been a wee bit disappointing, and a bit more frustrating  (the long phone calls etc) but on the whole I’ve been able to shrug my shoulders and say “there’s nowt you can do ‘bout it).

I’ll re-schedule just as soon as I’ve heard from my friends Andrew and Felicity in Melbourne as to what time/s will be convenient for them