Darryl Mexic's Reviews > The Gravedigger's Daughter

The Gravedigger's Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates
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Jan 25, 11

Read in December, 2009

** “The Gravedigger’s Daughter” by Joyce Carol Oates. Ms Oates is a prolific, popular, and critically acclaimed author. She also teaches humanities at Princeton University. Maybe those credentials raise expectations too much. This novel is at best only mildly interesting. The heroin, Rachel Schwarts, was born as her parents’ ship, taking them in their 1936 escape from the Nazis to the United States, lands in New York. The father, who had been a math teacher in Germany, takes the only job he can get – a grave digger in a small upstate town. His bitterness leaves him hating humanity in all its forms and leads him to become a brute of a husband and father. Both of Rachel’s older brothers quit school as soon as they reach the legal age of 16 and run away from home. Rachel stays because she worries about her mother who has become a complete recluse. The father ultimately kills his wife and himself, leaving Rachel a ward of the state. Rachel later marries, or at least think she is legally married, has a son, is brutally beaten by her husband, runs away and keeps on the run, finally meets a decent man, raises her son who becomes a concert pianist, and, in later life, has contact with a long lost relative whom Rachel thought was lost in the holocaust. It is a long book and much of the time, nothing is happening, people think and act in ways that seem to be inconsistent with their character, and often it is unclear what is going on. Further, Ms. Oats must love incomplete sentences, as the book is loaded with them. I suppose it is stylistic, but I guess I am too prosaic to appreciate it or the novel.

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