Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Mudwoman  is the thirty-eight novel written by Joyce Carol Oates, which is an incredibly amazing fact all by itself, but then to factor in that her novels are also quite good and insightful, makes her an even more amazing author!

Mudwoman begins in April of 1965. It begins:

"You must be readied, the woman said."

And with that beginning, the novel starts with a small child being taken by foot on a journey by her mother to what the mother called "the land of Moriah",  which was actually the mudflats beside the Black Snake River.  Once the child and mother arrived to where the mother deemed the place, the mother pushed and kicked the child down into the mudflats and left her there.  Move forward to October 2002.  M.R. (Meredith) Neukirchen is the first woman president of an Ivy League college. She made her career her life, never pursuing a family life.  She was still somewhat involved with a married man (her secret lover, as he is called in the book), and, for the most part, lived a fairly isolated life.

As you might have guessed, Meredith is Mudwoman.  Mudwoman is the child who had been abandoned in the mudflats and was miraculously discovered before it was too late.  The child was first placed in foster care for a brief time and was then adopted  by an older couple who had lost their only child, a daughter named Meredith, some years before.  Tellingly, the couple named their adopted daughter Meredith. Can you imagine how that must have been growing up...what expectations would that set up? 

One day, Meredith was driven to upstate New York for a conference.  She unexpectedly decided to rent a car and drive further upstate where her past began to seep into her consciousness. 

Although I don't think that it was ever specifically stated in the novel, it seemed to me that Meredith was slipping into some serious mental health issues as the novel progressed.  Not too unexpected given her history, and when she found her birth mother, it made an even stronger case for her descent.

I had mixed feelings about the novel.  I found it very hard to like or care about Meredith as an adult.  But I found the history of Meredith fascinating.  I did begin to care some about her near the very end of the book, when she went home to spend time with her (adoptive) father.  But the very ending of the book, put me right back into not liking her much.  I will admit, though, that it was an interesting story and it did keep my attention, so all in all, I recommend it.

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