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Amy Li is a freshman at the University at Albany. Although she is currently pursuing a degree in Actuarial Sciences, she also enjoys trying different fields of study such as Journalism.


She spends her time at Taekwondo practice, organizing the University's Honor’s College events, and crocheting projects for all her friends

Amy Li

Scurry your way to the bookstore for My Life as a Rat

By Amy Li

My Life as a Rat is a  “haunting tale, which works on many levels such as family drama and mystery,” said literary giant Joyce Carol Oates.

During her hour-long panel at the Albany Book Festival, Oates left the audience wondering if the biological nature of humans to protect their family is more important than cold-stone truth. 


Humans have a biological response to protect their young. However, what happens when there’s a betrayal that ostracizes one member from the others? This question is the theme for My Life as a Rat. Violet Rue Kerrigan, the main character, is placed into exile after exposing her older brother of the racially-charged murder of an African-American boy. “There’s a conflict of one’s loyalty, either turn your family in or the truth,” Oates said.

“There are consequences of telling the truth that you can’t anticipate,” Oates said. “Being an informer [rat] takes a lot of courage and is often thankless.” Oates explains herself further by comparing how David Kaczynski was treated after turning in his brother Ted, the Unabomber. David faced an internal conflict of moral obligation and familial love, and in the end his moral obligation saved multiple potential victims.  


My Life as a Rat, by Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates' bestselling book, My Life As A Rat

My Life as a Rat was first written as a short story, but Oates felt that she could expand the troubled life of Violet into a full-length novel.  The challenge for Oates was that the short story had already been completed. Starting from scratch was much easier, she said, than expanding a story with a definite ending. “It felt confining, restrictive, almost depressive, even,” said Oates. “Having a specific ending makes you feel so imprisoned, and you have to somehow manipulate this ending into freedom.” She restructured the story as a memoir of the seventh child of a Irish Catholic household in upstate New York.  The panel ended with Oates reading passages from My Life as a Rat, which was met with stunned silence followed by thundering claps.      

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