Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Obituary Writer, by Ann Hood

This is the story of Vivian, an obituary writer in the first part of the 20th century; it's also the story of Claire, who is a "Mad Men" sort of wife of the 1960s; and finally it's the story of Vivian and Claire together. Although they are from different eras, these two women have much in common. Unfortunately for them, a lot of what they share is that they struggle with relationships and experience sadness and grief, "which never really goes away, it just changes shape."

In 1960, when Claire finds out she is pregnant, she must decide if she should stay in her loveless marriage, or leave it for her lover. Complicating her decision-making is the fact that she is not sure if her lover or her husband is the unborn child's father. Decades earlier, unmarried Vivian is also no stranger to adultery. When her married lover disappears during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, her suffering runs deep. By becoming an obituary writer, she is able to channel her pain into helping others who are grief stricken.

Hood writes well and authentically about the nature of despair and coping with it. When he was young, her brother died in a freak accident, and 10 years ago her five-year-old daughter died of strep. In her previous novel The Knitting Circle, her memoir Comfort: A Journey Through Grief, and now in The Obituary Writer, Hood explores the pain of loss, which can be eased, yet never erased.

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