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The Gravedigger's Daughter

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Joyce Carol Oates holds the patent on searing tales of battered women struggling to overcome tough circumstances. In The Gravedigger’s Daughter, she gives us another steely survivor, Rebecca Schwart, the eponymous gravedigger’s daughter, whose parents fled Nazi Germany only to meet a grisly, self-inflicted fate in upstate New York. The tale opens in 1959, when Rebecca is disastrously married to an abusive charmer with whom she has a small son. The prose gallops along on a loose rein — perhaps too loose. At 582 pages, the narrative can be slack and repetitive, but Oates confidently delivers another very American saga of lurid misfortune. B+