Friday, September 18, 2009

Review: The Gravedigger's Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates

Author: Joyce Carol Oates
# pages: 582
Date published: 2007
Genre: literary fiction



First sentence:
One afternoon in September 1959 a young woman factory worker was walking home on the towpath of the Erie Barge Canal, east of the small city of Chautauqua Falls, when she began to notice that she was being followed, at a distance of about thirty feet, by a man in a panama hat.
What is it all about? The Gravedigger's Daughter is the story of Rebecca Schwarts. Born on a boat in New York Harbor as her parents arrive in America after fleeing Germany in 1936, Rebecca and her family move to a small upstate New York town where her father gets a job as a gravedigger. An educated man, Jacob Schwarts feels demeaned and insulted by the people of the town and the way he chooses to deal with these emotions will have far-reaching effects on his family.

When she is mistaken for another woman, Hazel Jones, by a man in a panama hat on the Erie Canal towpath one day, she vehemently denies being that woman. But, when her violent husband almost kills her and their son one night, Rebecca decides to leave him and take on the persona of Hazel Jones. More than 20 years later, she will find out the amazing truth about the man who made contact with her on the towpath and the real story of Hazel Jones.

Random thoughts: I read The Gravedigger's Daughter because my bookclub picked it for its September selection. I struggled through most of the book with a feeling of "I just don't care what happens to Rebecca." If I had not been reading it for the bookclub, I probably would have put it down and never looked back. But, then, at about page 500, the book suddenly got a lot more interesting. Unfortunately, the book is only 582 pages long. And, ultimately, I didn't like the ending either. Sigh...

Favorite quote(s): 
Remembering backward is the easy thing. If you could remember forward, you could save yourself... (p. 16)
The compulsion to be happy only complicates life. Gallagher had had enough of complications. (p. 393)
Fun tidbits:

Recommended for: I'm not sure I'd recommend The Gravedigger's Daughter. But if you want to try a book by Joyce Carol Oates, try We Were the Mulvaneys. I read that book a couple of years ago and I still think of it from time to time. I liked that one quite a bit. I've also heard that Zombie is very good.
I picked this book to help me complete the following reading challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Pages Read Challenge, 999 Challenge, Read Your Own Books (RYOB) Challenge, and the Countdown 2010 Challenge.


Literary Feline said...

I am sorry this one wasn't better for you. I've only had a chance to read one book by Joyce Carol Oates, The Falls, which I really liked. I have this one in my TBR collection, so I'm sure I'll get to it eventually.

Kristi said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Literary Feline. So far, I've read 2 of her books, one I really liked and this one that I didn't care for all that much (but it did have its redeeming qualities). I'm not giving up on Oates yet ;o). I'll check out The Falls, maybe I'll like that one.

Anna said...

My thoughts exactly!

I don't know why I kept reading the book, especially since it was so darn long!

Diary of an Eccentric