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My Life as a Rat: Book summary and reviews of My Life as a Rat by Joyce Carol Oates

My Life as a Rat

by Joyce Carol Oates

My Life as a Rat by Joyce Carol Oates X
My Life as a Rat by Joyce Carol Oates
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  • Published in USA  Jun 2019
    416 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

"A painful truth of family life: the most tender emotions can change in an instant. You think your parents love you but is it you they love, or the child who is theirs?"

Which should prevail: loyalty to family or loyalty to the truth? Is telling the truth ever a mistake and is lying for one's family ever justified?  Can one do the right thing, but bitterly regret it?  

My Life as a Rat follows Violet Rue Kerrigan, a young woman who looks back upon her life in exile from her family following her testimony, at age twelve, concerning what she knew to be the racist murder of an African-American boy by her older brothers. In a succession of vividly recalled episodes Violet contemplates the circumstances of her life as the initially beloved youngest child of seven Kerrigan children who inadvertently "informs" on her brothers, setting into motion their arrests and convictions and her own long estrangement.

Arresting and poignant, My Life as a Rat traces a life of banishment from a family—banishment from parents, siblings, and the Church—that forces Violet to discover her own identity, to break the powerful spell of family, and to emerge from her long exile as a "rat" into a transformed life.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Oates's novel adroitly touches on race, loyalty, misogyny, and class inequality while also telling a moving story with a winning narrator. This book should please her fans and win her new ones." - Publishers Weekly

"Oates explores the long echoes of violence born of sexism and racism in one young woman's life in this deft psychological thriller." - Kirkus Reviews

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Reader Reviews

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Sandi W.

Relationships, survival, and overcoming family separation...
3.75 starts Thank you to Ecco for allowing me to read and review this ARC. Published on June 4, 2019.

How do you make moral decisions? Does it depend on the circumstances? Depend on who may be involved? Depend on the outcome or on who knows what your decision is? Would that be different if you were a 12 year old child?

This is the story of Violet who had to make a moral decision. She had a secret. A secret about her brothers. She kept that secret, until she couldn't keep it anymore. Once revealed everything in her life changed. She had to leave her school, her friends, her very home. Her family shunned her. And not for a short time, but most of them for the rest of her life. She was 12 years old and the youngest of 7 children and none of them, including her parents, spoke to her for years afterward.

Two of her older brothers had killed a boy - a racial killing. Violet had overheard them talking and they shared their secret with her. Both brothers were convicted and sent to prison. Her family went into financial debt due to this and her father never forgave her.

The novel continues with the life Violet lived. How she processed what she had done. How she made a new life for herself and how she at long last related to the remaining members of her family, which also included one very traumatic episode.

A story of relationships, survival, overcoming family separation, loyalty, regret and love.

In my opinion one of Joyce Carol Oates' best books.

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Author Information

Joyce Carol Oates Author Biography

Photo by Marion Ettlinger

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, and has been several times nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award, and the New York Times bestseller The Falls, which won the 2005 Prix Femina. Her most recent novel is A Book of American Martyrs. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.

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