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Mudwoman

Mudwoman

Written by Joyce Carol Oates

Narrated by Susan Ericksen


Mudwoman

Written by Joyce Carol Oates

Narrated by Susan Ericksen

ratings:
3/5 (6 ratings)
Length:
19 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Mar 20, 2012
ISBN:
9780062115539
Format:
Audiobook

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Also available as bookBook

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Also available as bookBook

Description

A riveting novel that explores the high price of success in the life of one woman—the first female president of a lauded ivy league institution—and her hold upon her self-identity in the face of personal and professional demons, from Joyce Carol Oates, author of the New York Times bestseller A Widow’s Story

Mudgirl is a child abandoned by her mother in the silty flats of the Black Snake River. Cast aside, Mudgirl survives by an accident of fate—or destiny. After her rescue, the well-meaning couple who adopt Mudgirl quarantine her poisonous history behind the barrier of their middle-class values, seemingly sealing it off forever. But the bulwark of the present proves surprisingly vulnerable to the agents of the past.

Meredith “M.R.” Neukirchen is the first woman president of an Ivy League university. Her commitment to her career and moral fervor for her role are all-consuming. Involved with a secret lover whose feelings for her are teasingly undefined, and concerned with the intensifying crisis of the American political climate as the United States edges toward war with Iraq, M.R. is confronted with challenges to her leadership that test her in ways she could not have anticipated. The fierce idealism and intelligence that delivered her from a more conventional life in her upstate New York hometown now threaten to undo her.

A reckless trip upstate thrusts M.R. Neukirchen into an unexpected psychic collision with Mudgirl and the life M.R. believes she has left behind. A powerful exploration of the enduring claims of the past, Mudwoman is at once a psychic ghost story and an intimate portrait of a woman cracking the glass ceiling at enormous personal cost, which explores the tension between childhood and adulthood, the real and the imagined, and the “public” and “private” in the life of a highly complex contemporary woman.

Publisher:
Released:
Mar 20, 2012
ISBN:
9780062115539
Format:
Audiobook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

About the author

Joyce Carol Oates is the author of over seventy books encompassing novels, poetry, criticism, story collections, plays, and essays. Her novel Them won the National Book Award in Fiction in 1970. Oates has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for more than three decades and currently holds the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professorship at Princeton University.   


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What people think about Mudwoman

3.2
6 ratings / 7 Reviews
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  • (4/5)
    This psychological thriller is written in typical Oates style--a bit overwrought, but you get used to it and it works. Mudwoman is MR (Meredith), who has recently taken up position as the president of a prestigious Ivy League university. She is called "Mudwoman" because when she was a toddler, her mother abandoned her in the middle of mud flats to die. Covered in mud, she was rescued in time, and was lovingly raised by adoptive parents. However, she has always had a fragile sense of self, and constantly strives to be "the best" at whatever she does.The book alternates the story of her childhood and youth with her year as president of the university, as it gradually becomes apparent that her health is deteriorating. Strange things happen, and the reader is never sure what is real and what is not--whether MR is hallucinating or the events are really happening. Although long, this is a page-turner, and Oates paints an incisive psychological portrait of a troubled, but high-achieving woman. I am a fan of Joyce Carol Oates, and I recommend this to other fans.3 1/2 stars
  • (4/5)
    Mudwoman is not a book for anyone who is feeling depressed. M. R. [Meredith Ruth] Neukirchen may be highly accomplished now, the first female president of a university that didn't even admit women when she was born, but she had a very rocky start in life. The book wanders back and forth between Meredith's past and present. The present is set in the first year of her presidency and the summer after. The past gives us the day her mother, whom we could have called a religious maniac back in the 1960s, threw one of her little daughters onto a mudflat, from which she was rescued by a local trapper.'Mudgirl' was the nickname the little girl (Jewel or Jedinah?) was given by her foster father. The chapter headings are for either 'Mudgirl' or 'Mudwoman.' M. R. escapes death a second time by being adopted by the Neukirchins, a nice Quaker couple from Carthage, New York. Too bad they tried shield their 'Merry' from her past and the harsher realities of life.It is Conrad who gives M.R. her love of philosophy. Agatha, a librarian, teaches M. R. to love books. M. R. doesn't bother to visit or keep in touch with her adoptive parents much after she goes off to college. She seems to be a dreadful ingrate for much of the book, but we're given a motive later. For all of the love the Neukirchens lavished on their daughter, M. R. has grown up believing herself unworthy of love. She desperately craves it. A 'people pleaser' who falls apart when someone dislikes her, M. R. is working much too hard. She's been doing a good job of forgetting things she doesn't want to remember, but that's changing now.George W. Bush is President and the US is at war with Iraq. M. R. was against going to war in the first place and certainly doesn't support it now. The conservative element of her mostly-liberal university is difficult for M. R. to bear. One student brings her distress to a head.There are several scenes which turn out to be nightmares, or possibly hallucinations. Because they're portrayed in the same manner as the scenes meant to be M. R.'s reality, the reader gets to wonder until given notice or some clue that It Didn't Happen. After all, when a book starts out with a scene as horrific as this one did, it's hard to assure oneself that a new scene can't be real.Thank goodness some members of M. R.'s staff are bolder than the housekeeper who refuses to violate the privacy of the university president's chambers. I would have liked to have heard the housekeeper's remorse over what could have happened because of her attitude, but we aren't given her reaction.The summer months are better for our heroine. The final scene suggests she's learning at last. I hope so. So many times M. R.'s reactions or the behavior of others toward her made me wince in sympathy and remembered pain.Mudwoman held my interest through all 16 CDs. Ms. Ericksen's narration was just right for a character as tormented as Meredith, in my opinion. Again, though, I don't recommend reading or listening to this novel if feeling blue or depressed.You will not hear the infamous N-word in this book. The author is using 'niggardly', a synonym for 'stingy'.For readers who are so young that not even their parents listened to a radio station that played it, 'Both Sides Now' is a real song by Joni Mitchell. It's fitting for Mudwoman, so I do recommend looking it up and listening to it.I also recommend letting Monty Python's 'Bruces' Philosophers Song' run through your head every time a philosopher is mentioned -- it helps lighten the mood.
  • (4/5)
    The main character of this book, Meredith, is the first female president of Princeton [or at least of an unnamed ivy league school in New Jersey]. At the beginning, she is capable and busy, rushing to this or that meeting, solving this or that problem. Gradually, she starts to feel paranoid, to feel "less than", to be physically unable to fulfill her obligations. As a woman in a largely male dominated field, I have often struggled with these feelings, of trying to fit my femaleness into a box that doesn't feel right, of having to be more aggressive, of having to meet people's expectations of how I should appear. the thoughts and feelings that Meredith has are something that I identified with in many ways but which I had never seen in print. The cause to which which Meredith attributes Meredith's break, however, proved to be quite unfulfilling for me. I was left with the feeling that perhaps it is me that is the problem.
    The story of Meredith's career is paired with the story of her childhood in an upstate New York. She is born in the fictional Adirondack county of Beechum. Although the name of the county is invented, Oates' roots growing up in upstate New York allow her to portray the area with accuracy. I am a native northern New Yorker and haven't seen many other portrayals of the poverty and meanness that can exist alongside the beauty of that country. As Oates' describes it is an area "where poverty has become a natural resource: social workers, welfare workers, community-medical workers, public defenders, prison and psychiatric hospital staffers, family court officials---all thrived in such barren soil."
    I have purposely not provided many details about the plot because it would---at least for the first three quarters---suffer from over explanation. I liked the dreamy tone of it that led to a confusion of what had really happened and what hadn't.
  • (3/5)
    Mudwoman drew me in quickly with its incredibly unique character and circumstances. I found the story of an abused girl's beginnings altogether believable in its depth. The story moved quickly and then suddenly seemed to veer off course. The latter part of the book becomes less believable (even though we're seeing the world from the inside of this character), and I lost a sense of connection with the girl-become-woman. I did finish but found the ending unsatisfying after such wonderful character development and storytelling.
  • (1/5)
    In looking at reviews for "Mudwoman", I went to several different sources. On one website I found several reviews and myriad quotes from different sources for reviews, newspapers, etc. The consensus on this site was that it was a fabulous book, well-written with Oates' usual genius for insight into her characters, and the feeling of menace that many of her books have, which the main character fails to sense until it is often too late. This book in particular was considered somewhat of a departure for her, a foray into new territory. There was not a negative review to be found, but only praise for her superb writing and spot-on account of the breakdown of a professional accomplished woman when the ghosts of her past become too much to bear.On the other hand, on another site, I found dissenters. While some enjoyed "Mudwoman" in much the same way that had previously enjoyed Oates' other books, there were also several that felt that she was not on the mark with this novel. The writing seemed disjointed and difficult to follow. I think they were probably correct about that, but I think that says more about her main character, M. R. Neukirchen's state of mind than Oates' writing. One reviewer felt it was an utter waste of her time. Another found that she actually abandoned the book,something she had never done with any of Oates' other books.Personally, I found "Mudwoman" consistently entertaining, although I agree that it was difficult reading at times, because the reader could not always be sure whether M.R. was hallucinating or whether the scenes were actually happening to her. That was part of the dark atmosphere that Oates' builds around M.R. Neukirchen. The first female President of a University, she lives in a rather eerie house provided for the President by the University. She is often alone, as her professional life has not provided for many close relationships to develop. While she attends many dinners, breakfasts, lunches and opportunities to mingle, she never really does, as she has secrets in her life that preclude close friendships. She has a (secret) lover. Or at least we think she does because after all, she is the only one to see him. It is as the book progresses that we see that all is not well with M.R. and we begin to doubt much of what she is experiencing. I found the novel engrossing, and the characters fully developed, I thought it was unique that Oates' was able to bring us along, moving the story forward while at the same time, we were experiencing a mind that is not really seeing what is happening around her, but rather being in an altered state. I highly recommend this book, and I look forward to another book from Joyce Carol Oates,whom I consider one of our most accomplished writers today.
  • (3/5)
    Usually I like JCO and I really tried to like this book, but it was a chore and just a huge downer overall. Meredith is plagued by her past as a child left to die on the banks of a river, but she is rescued, nursed back to health and eventually adopted by a kindly couple. she rises rapidly in the world of higher education and is named the President of a prestigious university at age 41. that's when it all starts to unravel for M.R., as she is known professionally. Her grasp on reality is seriously compromised. Most of the plot takes place in dream sequences, so it doesn't really happen at all. and typical of JCO, all the men are rapist monsters and the worst possible scenario is the one that plays out.
  • (4/5)
    Mudwoman is dark even by Joyce Carol Oates standards. Oates is well known for novels featuring female leads that do not sense the physical jeopardy they are in before it is almost too late to escape it. Suddenly, these women - as intelligent and accomplished as they may be – recognize that they have wandered into a situation that could cost them their lives. The threat usually comes from an evil or deranged man but, in the case of Mudwoman, all the damage is done by a little girl’s own mother. When she is three, Jedina Kraek's mother decides to murder her and her five-year-old sister. Jedina is shaved bald as part of her mother’s religious delusions and tossed into a mud flat near the Black Snake River where her mother assumes that she will drown in the muck. Against all odds, the little girl is found by a mentally handicapped local trapper and taken into a foster family for several years. When the Neukirchens, a childless Quaker couple, adopt her, Jedina (who had mistakenly claimed her older sister’s name, Jewel) becomes Meredith Ruth Neukirchen.“Merry” does her best to live up to the Quaker standards of her parents, and becomes the model student, an overachiever who compensates for her insecurities by excelling at academics. Secretly, Meredith applies for, and wins, the scholarship to Cornell that she believes will be her ticket to a new life far from stifling Carthage, New York.Mudwoman is told in chapters that alternate between Meredith’s girlhood and her present life as the first female president of a prestigious Ivy League university. Now 41, and calling herself M.R. Neukirchen, Meredith lives alone in a spooky, “historic” house on campus allocated to the president and spends all of her waking hours on university business – much of it involving fundraisers at which she must impress potential donors with her administrative competence. Oates, herself a Princeton teacher since 1978, is very familiar with this world and she exposes its inner workings here in detail. Because so much of what takes place in the present happens entirely inside M.R.’s head, the book becomes a contrast between a realistic presentation of her childhood and the more surrealistic presentation of her present day circumstances. What happens when M.R.’s childhood demons intrude upon her present life is often painful to watch. When cracks begin to appear in her public persona, expect to be horrified by M.R.’s mental collapse as the university board of directors tries to contain the damage and deal with the problems she creates for the school. Mudwoman is frustrating at times because Oates, who is a master of this writing style, wants her readers to be (at least temporarily) as confused as M.R. herself about what is real and what happens only in her dreams. The good news is that patient readers will find that most, but not quite all, of the answers are revealed by the end of the book. Even better news is that they will have spent so much time inside M.R.’s head that they will likely know and understand her as well as they do any fictional character they have ever encountered.Although it can be a difficult read at times, I highly recommend Mudwoman.Rated at: 4.0