Books by Joyce Carol Oates are the epitome of my idea of sophisticated dorkiness. You don’t feel bad reading Oates because she seems literary and sophisticated (which she is). However, the plot of each book could be straight out of one of the Lifetime movies I sometimes watch and then feel embarrassed that I got sucked into (totally dorky). For me, Oates is the guilty pleasure I don’t have to hide from my literary friends.
The core of each Oates book I’ve read has a relatively similar plot: a sympathetic, if a little eccentric main female character has a tragedy occur and we follow her to see how the tragedy has a rippling effect throughout her life and the lives of those closest to her. What saves each book from being generic is the talent that Oates has with words, story form, and developing the core plot with a series of twists that make the book into a story you never really expected.
In the case of The Gravedigger’s Daughter, the main character is Rebecca, a young married woman in her mid-twenties. The book jumps back in time to when Rebecca was a child, just after her Jewish families escape from Nazi-occupied Germany. Her family moves to a small town where her father takes a job as the town undertaker. After an unhappy childhood, the first tragedy strikes, leaving Rebecca on her own.
Rebecca soon becomes involved with Niles Tignor, a volatile but undeniably intoxicating man. The two are married and soon have a son. But soon after Tignor turns violent, forcing Rebecca to take her son and run as far from him as she can or risk being killed. Drama! The book follows Rebecca as she ages on the run from Tignore and her past, but I won’t say more than that for fear of spoilers.
The Gravedigger’s Daughter wasn’t my favorite Oates book, but it was a book I enjoyed reading. Rebecca is a fascinating narrator who is constantly struggling with her identity and how to protect herself and her son. The book starts out small, but as the plot thickens Oates turns Rebecca’s story into a sort of epic tale of life, death, and family. In terms of book structure, the story felt a little bit too much like the last Oates book I read, The Falls, but that’s really my only big critique of the book. Overall, The Gravedigger’s Daughter is a good book that I’d recommend.
Links to Enjoy:
- My Fall Into Reading 2008 List
- USAToday review of The Gravedigger’s Daughter
- Celestial Timepiece: A Joyce Carol Oates Homepage
Other Reviews: Fresh Ink Books
If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!