Although Joyce Carol Oates has been a fixture of American literature since her debut novel in 1964, her twenty-sixth novel We Were the Mulvaneys, published in 1996, was the first one to reach the top of the New York Times bestsellers list. The book tells the story of the Mulvaney family, a close-knit clan of social achievers who live in a rural community in upstate New York from the 1950s through the 1980s and how their peaceful existence is fractured when the daughter is molested after a high school dance. The aftermath of the event drives different family members into isolation, alcoholism, and a revenge scheme that includes kidnapping and murder. As with many of Oates's works, the sudden realization that violence can break out at any moment forces the characters to reconsider what they thought they knew about the world. Unlike many of her books, though, We Were the Mulvaneys has a life-affirming conclusion in which the characters finally make peace with the demons that have haunted them. Oates's eye for detail and understanding of the emotions of damaged and fragile human beings allow readers to follow six individuals on their separate paths while never losing sight of what makes each one of them a Mulvaney.