Friday, February 19, 2010

Book Report: "The Gravedigger's Daughter" by Joyce Carol Oates

I just finished listening to The Gravedigger's Daughter, by Joyce Carol Oates. I didn't like Oates's early books; there was too much graphic violence for my tastes. Either Oates has gotten more skillful in her use of violence or I have gotten more inured to it, maybe both, but I really like this book.

The book comes in at nearly 600 pages, but it is not a page too long. It takes those pages to tell the story of a young woman, born in New York harbor in 1936 when her family escapes Nazi Germany. Her family settles in upstate New York, familiar Oates territory, and suffers from the small town prejudices of the era. There is family tragedy, but, somehow, the young woman survives to make it on her own.

Despite the tragedy, the book is not depressing, even in the emotional ending when even this hard-hearted old reporter started almost thinking about getting somewhat choked up. (I didn't actually shed a tear though. Thankfully.)

I have often complained about fine books, spoiled by poorly-written endings. That is not a concern in this book. In fact, the ending, which appeared excerpted in The New Yorker several years ago, may be the strongest part of the book.

The edition to which I listened was read by Bernadette Dunne. If you have ever considered listening to a book, this is one to try. Ms. Dunne does a masterful job with using different voices with different accents to convey an addition dimension to the characters. The book is strong enough to stand on its own as a paper book, but the recorded version is even stronger, in my opinion.

This is one of those rare books that made me say "wow!" at the end. I gave it five plus stars and my rating scale only goes to five.

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