With few exceptions, We Were the Mulvaneys accomplishes the rare yet often hoped-for balance of being embraced by both critics and the book-buying public. With an initial 1996 print run of 75,000 copies, the novel was clearly expected to be popular. Attention to the book soared, however, when it was announced as the first selection of 2001 for Oprah's Book Club. After that, hundreds of thousands of copies were bought. Though the 2002 movie adaptation was made for a cable television network, its three Emmy award nominations helped draw attention to an even wider audience.
When the book debuted, most critics were enthusiastic about it. For example, Joanne V. Creighton, writing in the Chicago Tribune, announces at the start of her review, "We Were the Mulvaneys is a major achievement that stands with Oates' finest studies of American life," going on to call it, "capacious, riveting and moving." This assessment is echoed by a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, who describes the book as "Elegiac and urgent on tone," and who concludes, "the prose is sometimes prolix, but the very rush of narrative, in which flashbacks capture the same urgency of tone as the present, gives this moving tale its emotional power." A Booklist reviewer notes that "Oates' latest novel is a tragic, compelling tale," and adds the prediction: "Her legion of fans will be pleased."
Reviewing the book for the Washington Post, Dwight Garner points out how easy it would be to "undervalue" the work of a writer who is as productive as Oates. "By now it's become trite to exclaim at the length of Oates' books, or at the sheer abundance of them." He later insists: "It would be a mistake, however, to underestimate We Were the Mulvaneys ." Garner finds that the book's...
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