Thanks so much for all your kinds words, thoughts, and vibes last week. I had a totally blissed out time with the girl last week. Camp started this morning. My stomach was churning and she was fine until we arrived. That small hand clutched mine and whispered 'I want to stay with you mama.' But. Soon her best friend arrived and all was well, kiss and out the door. Can't wait to hear all about it.
My introduction to Joyce Carol Oates was her novel We Were the Mulvaneys which I read with my book club in 2002. I didn't keep records then so I cannot remember my specific response to the book but I remember that while it was readable we all felt awfully lukewarm about it. It's somewhat surprising then that we chose to read The Gravedigger's Daughter this year. I think we were all drawn in by the description of the book.
The Jewish Schwart family has immigrated to the US from Nazi Germany. Typically, these sorts of characters would be written in a sympathetic light, but not by JCO. Father Jacob is authoritarian and crazy. The only job he's been able to procure is that of the town gravedigger. Ma is passive, doesn't speak English or frankly much of anything. Youngest daughter Rachel is smart and inquisitive, but thwarted by poverty and her family situation.
Jacob commits a crime that leaves Rebecca on her own. Without any positive male role models in her life Rebecca naturally becomes involved with the Wrong sort of man and bears him a child. A series of circumstances lead Rebecca to relocate and change the names of her son and herself. Suddenly the girl who had been dumpy is beautiful and desirable to men. They want to get to know her better while she wishes to keep them at arm's length. Some more things happen to Rebecca, none of them good. There is a somewhat funny and strange series of letters at the end of the book. And then it just ends.
If you couldn't tell already I wasn't crazy about this book, and sadly it was quite long at nearly 600 pages of small print. JCO has a unique narrative style. As a reader I felt quite distant from all the characters. There seemed to be an excessive amount of exclamation points. Exclamation points! Like that! The story is just entirely depressing, crass at times, horrific in others, and towards the end I just didn't care to be introduced to new characters that frankly didn't seem to add much to the story. I'm glad I read it since it sounded good to me, but I don't think I'll be returning to this author.
So, I'm curious to know if there are any JCO fans out there. I'm wondering if she's sort of like Margaret Atwood - you have to sort of 'get' her to enjoy her books. It'll be interesting to see what my bookclub thinks. Or if they even finish it.
I wanted to mention our last meeting when we 'discussed' Emma. It was a disappointing meeting in terms of the bookishness. Only 3 out of 7 members finished the book. There were so many negative comments! It was hard to follow, too many characters, couldn't get into the language, on and on. I was actually pretty surprised at the reaction. I guess we won't be dipping into Austen again as a group.
I guess it sounds like I've been reading a lot of books which I did not enjoy - but I've actually read a few good ones too! I'll share those soon.