In her thirty-sixth novel, Joyce Carol Oates delivers a moving and surprisingly gruesome tale of one family’s experience of immigration to America. The focus of the story is the eponymous daughter, Rebecca Schwart, a girl who, despite being the first of her family born in the ‘Yoo Ess’, feels the sense of dislocation more acutely than her relatives.
The family settle in Milburn, New York, after a terrible Atlantic crossing during which the father’s guts ‘was eat out by rats’. Jacob supports his family by becoming the caretaker at the town cemetery, taking Rebecca and her brothers to live in a ramshackle cottage in the grounds. This is an upbringing that scars the young girl, who comes to be stigmatised as the ‘gravedigger’s daughter’ by the children of the town, the adults throwing far more cutting insults.
When we are first introduced to Rebecca it is 1959, and the young girl has escaped from the cemetery and started a new life with her husband and child. This opening chapter displays Oates’s skill in exposition, tiny hints of Rebecca’s past surfacing as she fears a strange man is