The Gravedigger's Daughter (2007) by Joyce Carol Oates is my favorite novel by this author since We Were the Mulvaneys. Oates' writing style does not fail her or her readers in this interesting and different novel. The sheer size of Oates' novels are often daunting, but I have not found them disappointing as the narrative is always so good.
The Gravedigger's Daughter tells the story of Rebecca Schwart. Rebecca is born to German refugees who have fled from Nazi Germany and ended up in upstate New York in a small town along the Erie Canel. Rebecca is born on a cramped transport ship in New York Harbor and so is the first of the family to be born in this country. Her father, a well educated man, takes a job as a caretaker of a small town cemetary. The family is not well received by a community that mocks them by calling them Nazis or Jews, or mocks them for their thick accents. The mother loses what sanity she has left and becomes reclusive, the father loses his mind as well and eventually drives the two sons away. After a final tragedy, Rebecca is left on her own in this alien world. Eventually she begins a relationship with a man that turns into a brutal nightmare. Rebecca escapes the man, with her young son in tow, and becomes Hazel Jones. As Hazel Jones, she begins a life of running from one town to another. Hazel changes and becomes a different woman as she seeks to adjust to the life she is living at the time, and the men she becomes involved with. In the beginning she is a poorly educated small town factory worker and in the end she is a sophisticated woman still dealing with her haunted past.
Oates, once again, does not disappoint.