Book Review: Mudwoman by Joyce Carol Oates

Title: Mudwoman
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: Fourth Estate, Harper Collins
ISBN: 978-0007481811
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 448
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Every time I set out to read a new novel, I am a little apprehensive. Questions plague the mind: What if I do not like the book? What if it’s a waste of time? What if I cannot relate to a single character in the book? However that does not happen whenever I am out to read a new Joyce Carol Oates book.

I discovered Oates through the Oprah Book Club (the only time I was grateful to her and her show). She had chosen, “We Were the Mulvaneys” in January 2001 and I could not wait to get my hands on it. At that time there was no Flipkart or HomeShop18. I had to depend on my local bookstore and I received it in a matter of four weeks. I raced through and could not stop recommending it to friends. Sadly, they were not interested. Since then I haven’t recommended Oates to a lot of people. I am happy in the knowing that only I get to read what she writes. Till I read one of her recent books and as usual, I have to tell people about it.

“Mudwoman” is classic Joyce Carol Oates. There is a lot of darkness surging underneath, there is the psychotic (well almost) female protagonist, the girl’s deranged mother, and the different writing styles at various points in the book.

Let me also tell you that it is not easy to read Oates. It took me a long time to get into the book and actually start enjoying it. Mudwoman revolves around Jedina Kraek from the time she is a little girl to when she becomes a woman and lives out her life. When she is three, her mother tries to murder her and her five-year old sister. Jedina is shaved bald as a part of her mother’s delusions and thrown in the mud flat near the Black Snake River, left to drown. Fortunately, Jedina is found by a mentally challenged local trapper and taken into a foster family for several years. After this, a childless Quaker couple, the Neukirchens, adopt her and give her a new name – Meredith Ruth Neukirchen.

Amidst all this, Meredith tries very hard to make her adoptive parents proud – from excelling in her studies to winning a scholarship to being an overachiever to wanting a new life for herself, away from her roots and everything she had to go through. At 41, she is the first female president of a prestigious Ivy League university and calls herself M.R. Neukirchen and lives alone in a historic, almost macabre house.

This is the plot of the book. Told in alternating chapters – present day to when M.R. was a girl, Mudwoman is an account of a woman (in almost like most of Oates’ books) with a past, a present that is not too fulfilling and a future that she is unaware and unsure of. The writing as usual is strong, but at times tends to get a bit of a drag. However, once those parts are done with, Mudwoman is a delightful read. I highly recommend this one.

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