Sunday, January 25, 2009

Audiobook Review: The Gravedigger's Daughter

The following is a summary from Harper Collins of The Gravedigger's Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates:

In 1936 the Schwarts, an immigrant family desperate to escape Nazi Germany, settle in a small town in upstate New York, where the father, a former high school teacher, is demeaned by the only job he can get: gravedigger and cemetery caretaker. After local prejudice and the family's own emotional frailty result in unspeakable tragedy, the gravedigger's daughter, Rebecca, begins her astonishing pilgrimage into America, an odyssey of erotic risk and imaginative daring, ingenious self-invention, and, in the end, a bittersweet—but very "American"—triumph. "You are born here, they will not hurt you"—so the gravedigger has predicted for his daughter, which will turn out to be true.

In The Gravedigger's Daughter, Oates has created a masterpiece of domestic yet mythic realism, at once emotionally engaging and intellectually provocative: an intimately observed testimony to the resilience of the individual to set beside such predecessors as The Falls, Blonde, and We Were the Mulvaneys.

My Review:

This was the first audiobook that I have listened to and I found myself wanting to drive my car so I could hear what was going to happen next. I did enjoy the book, but found myself confused by her writing quite often. In this novel the author quite frequently jumps around from different time periods and it was very distracting. I have read other novels that used this method and found that it may have even enhanced the books, but not with this one.

This is an epic novel that takes you through the life of Rebecca Schwarts. It starts in a small town in New York when Rebecca's father, Jacob Schwarts finds a job as a caretaker for a cemetary. Since he is the caretaker he is provided housing, which consisted of a tiny cottage near the cemetary that did not provide enough privacy for a family of five. Life in the Schwarts home becomes very tense as Jacob becomes very distrustful of the activities that his family members are involved in. Rebecca's older brothers cannot handle their father's abusive attitude any longer and flee from the little cottage, leaving Rebecca to fend for herself. Shortly after her brothers leave, Jacob Schwarts finally snaps forcing Rebecca to leave the life that she has known.

As she continues her life elsewhere, without her family, Rebecca falls in love and marries a man who turns out to be as abusive as her father was. One evening after her husband has beaten both her and her son, she decides to take her only son and start a new life without her husband. I appreciate the strength that was created in the character by being able to start a new life and identity over with her child to protect them both.

The rest of the novel takes you through Rebecca's adult life under a new identity. She instills in her son a passion for playing the piano and watches him develop into a very famous piano player. You can see her pride in her son and knowing that everything that she had to give up in life to create her new identity was all worth it for him.

The end of the book was actually bittersweet as Rebecca reaches out to a long, lost family member. She has spent her whole life avoiding any family that she may have left so her identity would not be revealed. I did enjoy the story as a whole, but it may not be for everyone. Especially if there are little ears close by, this audiobook contains a fair amount of profanity.

Rating: 3/5


Anonymous said...

Since the author jumps around different time periods, I'd probably be better off reading that one.

Meg89 said...

I actually just read an Oates short story in the New Yorker, called Pumpkin Head, oddly enough. It was somewhat blah, but well written. I haven't read any of her novels, but her name pops up quite often.

As far as the book being confusing, sometimes I find that with audio books, I get lost more often. I'm not sure if that's because I get distracted and miss things or simply because I'm not looking at the words, but sometimes a device, like jumping around in time may work for me in print but not translate as well to audio.

Jo-Jo said...

Meg and Kathy: I think you are right about it being more confusing as an audiobook. I know when I have read other books like this I would find myself peeking back at the beginning of the chapter to see what year it is, where I was not able to do that with this one.

Anonymous said...

I read We Were the Mulvaneys a few years ago and enjoyed it. I might have to check this one out, also. But in book format. :-)

Serena said...

I love books that capture your attention in the car and make you want to keep driving to hear the rest.