We Were the Mulvaneys

images.jpgI enjoy reading Joyce Carol Oates. JCO is very prolific, both in titles and in pages which sometimes makes it difficult to pick out a JCO novel to read. The other problem interfering with a consistent and detailed study of JCO’s writing is that despite being highly entertaining, it tends to lack any lasting substance.

But not being the new Dostoevsky or Proust perhaps misses the point of JCO’s writing. Let’s face it, Joyce Carol Oates is an excellent story teller and a master of narrative fiction.

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A Fist Full of Oates

I earlier suggested that Joyce Carol Oates was a prolific author but I failed to even suggest a bibliography. Since the author has written under other names, I can’t guarantee that I have it all but a check at Wikipedia might make it seem more official. Furthermore, although JCO probably prefers it this way, she is continually publishing yet another novel or story collect or essay or whatever. Therefore, this list is still in flux:


  • With Shuddering Fall (1964)
  • A Garden of Earthly Delights (1967)
  • Expensive People (1968)
  • them (1969)
  • Wonderland (1971)
  • Do With Me What You Will (1973)
  • The Assassins (1975)
  • Childwold (1976)
  • Son of the Morning (1978)
  • Cybele (1979)
  • Unholy Loves (1979)
  • Bellefleur (1980)
  • Angel of Light (1981)
  • A Bloodsmoor Romance (1982)
  • Mysteries of Winterthurn (1984)
  • Solstice (1985)
  • Marya: A Life (1986)
  • You Must Remember This (1987)
  • American Appetites (1989)
  • Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart (1990)
  • Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang (1993) (the basis for the 1996 film Foxfire)
  • What I Lived For (1994)
  • Zombie (1995)
  • We Were the Mulvaneys (1996)
  • Man Crazy (1997)
  • My Heart Laid Bare (1998)
  • Broke Heart Blues (1999)
  • Blonde (2000)
  • Middle Age: A Romance (2001)
  • I’ll Take You There (2002)
  • The Tattooed Girl (2003)
  • The Falls (2004)
  • Missing Mom (2005)
  • Black Girl / White Girl (2006)
  • The Gravedigger’s Daughter (2007)
  • My Sister, My Love (2008)
  • Little Bird of Heaven (2009)
  • A Fair Maiden (2010)
  • Mudwoman (2012)[57]
  • Carthage (2013)
  • The Accursed (March 2013)

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What do we do with JCO?

Joyce Carol Oates is one of the more prolific writers in the world but despite her academic credentials and prestigious placement at Princeton, is she really an author that will withstand the rigors of time and changes in public (let alone academic) opinion?

Is it possible that the amount of quality writing is somehow a finite commodity and no matter how hard they might try, authors generally cannot exceed their threshold? Let’s look at a few prolific authors and test that hypothesis. Here is my list, although you might want to consider other writers too:

  • Georges Simenon
  • Honoré de Balzac
  • Alexander Dumas
  • Stephen King
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Joyce Carol Oates.

Right off the top I see we can eliminate two authors, not because they disprove the conjecture, but because consideration of their works doesn’t require great thought or effort. First, Edgar Rice Burroughs and his ilk probably never approached the threshold of greatness, but rather should be measured on a different scale, one involving fun. Stephen King, however, is possibly a candidate for consideration but it is immediately obvious that he has never dipped a sentence in the pool of good writing so we can hardly expect to find anything worth saving, let alone reading, in his works.

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