Of perseverance and the loneliness of I've not read a great deal of Joyce Carol Oates' copious publication list, but the Gravedigger's Daughter seems to be at the more reserved, conventional end of her spectrum. Of perseverance and the loneliness of steadfast purpose, and the necessary but insurmountably isolating walls we build. Strange that other reviews complain that the prose is excessive, as I would actually say that with her more markedly modernist or gothic tendancies reigned in somewhat, Oates' deft, precise touch for the description of details both internal and external is her strongest asset.
Her words are crisp and effective, and occasionally glittering, without ever slowing from a brisk and utterly readable presentation. Which is to say that this reads essentially like the literary bestseller that it was, I suppose. I have to admit that such heartfelt realist narratives aren't entirely to my taste these days, but I managed not to be bored for almost pages, which says something. Slows a bit towards the end inevitably, I was more interested in the protagonist's tumultous youth than ever more stable middle age but even then, Oates chooses her scenes well to keep things moving along.
Oh, and Oates can't possibly shake off her all her gothic predilections, either -- one seemingly inconsequential point resurafaces rather startlingly, tying things a little tighter than expected. And now time to go back to some bizarro sci-fi or something.
Book Thief :Novel Summary: Part One: The Grave Digger's Handbook
Lengthy past thoughts at the mid-point: For christmas. This is something like Joyce Carol Oates' 53rd novel not exaggerating, she's written at least one a year for the length of her productive career, plus buckets of stories. And I'll admit, though I loved her eerie 5-voice stream-of-consciousness nocturne Childwold a totally random used bookshop selection whose design and first page seemed perfect , that I'm always a little unsure of picking up her others.
Because they can't all be good, can they? And I can't possibly dig through all of them in search of more Childwold-caliber material it's barely on goodreads, and the reviews that there are are pretty middling.
And I hear lots of conflicting things about her. Some people complain about her often dense prose and weirdo gothic modernism, some seem to steer clear based on the mass exposure and Oprah-book-clubbing of We Were the Mulvaneys which seems to suggest over-sentiment or something what it probably actually suggests is overwhelming tragedy, sentimental or not.
Some complain that her entire catalog is solid but increasingly redundant as you read more and more of it. So, tricky. So I'm actually pretty grateful for this well-placed gift, to slice through my indecision. And so how is this? I'd worried that modern, more popular Oates might be a little more conservative in prose style, and compared to Childwold, it certainly is. But by normal bestseller standards, it's clear that Oates can really write.
With sharp, finely-worked prose, with a decent sense of how to juggle chronology for juxtaposition and pacing, with conviction and convincing voice and convincing, lived sense of the inevitability of tragedy and a little of that Faulknerian sense of familial doom. So it's pretty good. It captures well the sadness of being alive, the sadness of being an immigrant, The Sadness of Being a Girl borrowing the phrase from an old Vietnamese psych rock song from this comp , which is what I gather a lot of "serious" i. But at hundred pages, a lot of this seems inessential, too.
Rebecca Schwart's story is perhaps sadly quintessential, and the prose is great line-for-line, but there's nothing here that burns to be spoken, exactly, or that burns to be spoken slowly, over hundreds of pages of carefully-wrought description. The inessentialness of a long, dense career, maybe. The inessentialness of telling things in great detail just because you can. Or maybe I've been spoiled by compact, concise storytelling lately. But this sill moves well under its own momentum. I guess I'll have to see where the second half takes me.
Dec 22, Christina rated it really liked it Shelves: , fiction , random-picks. This is a book about identity, about coming to terms with your past and being who you are. About family, battered women and their husbands. About the immigrant experience. Oates details the story of Rebecca Schwart's life from her earliest childhood and on. Rebecca is the third child of poor, immigrant Jewish parents who arrived in the States in the 30 and Rebecca was actually born in New York Harbor, making her a US citizen as the only one in the family.
The book starts with Rebecca thinking back This is a book about identity, about coming to terms with your past and being who you are. The book starts with Rebecca thinking back on her parents - and we learn that her father came to a violent end, but not how - I was instantly hooked. He forbade Rebecca's mother to speak German and in that way stripped her of her ability to communicate and be an individual and he controlled everything in the house.
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In Germany, he was a teacher and a cultured man - in the States he works as the gravedigger doing manual labor and is not respected at all - he and his family are actually victims of some anti-semitic 'jokes', both real and imagined. In Rebecca's current life, she is married and a mother - but her husband perhaps isn't all he claimed to be and Rebecca has to escape with Niley and she starts a new life - as Hazel Jones.
She chooses that name because she meets a man one day who thinks she's Hazel Jones and she stars believing she could be. The truth of that encounter is revealed towards the end of the book - in a way, only Oates can pull off. But Hazel manages to - cunningly - create a new life and two new identities for her and her little boy, Zacharias who turns out to be a wonderful piano player - a skill he inherited from his maternal grandmother.
In the end, Rebecca comes full circle and face to face with her past. As always, I love the way Oates writes. She seems so in control of her language and her story and characters and everything works together beautifully. Her way of letting a person's thoughts and imaginations being part of the text but written in cursive, makes the characters have so much depth and this was another wonderful book by her. I always say - and write - that Oates write about the American dream gone bad.
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In this book, she doesn't. Rebecca actually achieve the American dream - she creates a great life for herself and her son. She pays a huge price for this, her chosen way of life - and even though she had to go into hiding to get away from her abusive husband, the question remains whether the way she chose to do it was worth it in the end.
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And she learns the wisdom of her father's advice: In animal life the weak are quickly disposed of. So you must hide your weakness, Rebecca. We must. And she does. View all 6 comments.
Apr 30, Ruth rated it it was ok. This was my necessary breezy read after the last one. It's the second thing I've read by this author, who seems to be really well-appreciated by the world, but I am still ambivalent about her work. It is easy to get into but also easy to fall right back out of- I guess that's what I will say. She is very prolific, though- it could be that I'm just reading the wrong things.
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This one is about a woman who has a really hard childhood and young adulthood and gets a lot of abuse, and then she goes on This was my necessary breezy read after the last one. This one is about a woman who has a really hard childhood and young adulthood and gets a lot of abuse, and then she goes on and makes a life for herself by having this kind of double identity and smiling a lot and never trusting anybody.
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There are some interesting things about immigration, and maybe gender, the holocaust View 1 comment. When I reached for my first book by Joyce Carol Oates, The Gravedigger's Daughter, I must admit I was expecting a somewhat sugar-coated and sweetened novel about a poor little girl, daughter of refugees from pre-war Germany, who grows up being mocked and bullied by her peers. I was somewhat expecting a novel about pity and unfair treatment. Probably it was the book cover that added a lot in forming this wrong expectation of mine.
And while in a sense, I did find pity and drama in this book, they When I reached for my first book by Joyce Carol Oates, The Gravedigger's Daughter, I must admit I was expecting a somewhat sugar-coated and sweetened novel about a poor little girl, daughter of refugees from pre-war Germany, who grows up being mocked and bullied by her peers.
And while in a sense, I did find pity and drama in this book, they were far from the sugar-coated and sweet, naive rendition I expected. This is a book with a lot of blood, guts, and madness in it.