Mudwoman by Joyce Carol Oates


I have not been disturbed so thoroughly as by this book. A little girl thrown to the mud and left to die by a disturbed mother and an insecure, passionate university president facing a professional crisis on a university campus.  The two events are connected and it is as they converge that we descend into a shifting, remorseless world as uncertain and treacherous as the mud that the girl is pulled from, mute and scalped, called there by an illiterate trapper.

The book holds two narratives in parallel, managing to bring in the viciousness of campus politics, the impact of the invasion of Iraq, the increasing polarity of the social justice movements on both the left and right, the insecurities of relationships and the way that childhood creates the adult in both positive and negative ways, and how love can allow us to overcome the worst possible beginnings. Oates writes in a feverish, capable prose exploring the surface details before diving deep into the personal mythology and psychology of a woman who has spent so long building an identity that when she finds it challenged, that she begins to descend into a personal hell where her past returns to confront her at the worst possible time.

It’s a book that seethes like a bolus of snakes, written beautifully and constructed in a way that takes you with the narrator into her reality and her attempts to hold onto her self with a care and attention that disturbs and challenges but keeps you reading and involved with the personal mythology that is established and returned to, throughout the book.

A brilliant and disturbing book that left me unnerved and inspired in equal measure.


5 thoughts on “Mudwoman by Joyce Carol Oates

    1. it is the first book of hers that I have read. It won’t be the last, I barely drew breath at points, there is a terrible clarity to her work that just drew me in and I came away shaken by it.


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