Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Obituary Writer

The Obituary Writer

Most of the books I read come from the very excellent library in Aurora. Whenever I spot a promising-looking book at the bookstore or see/hear an interesting review in the media or get a recommendation from a friend I look for it online at the library and add it to my hold list. Then, if I know I won’t be able to read it right away should it become available, I suspend the hold until I’m ready. That is how I get 95% of the books I read. 

What about the other 5%? Whenever I’m at the library, returning or picking up books, I check the nearby racks or sometimes the new book shelf for anything that looks interesting and that’s how I recently found The Obituary Writer by American writer, Ann Hood.

By the time we arrive at adult-hood most of us have experienced the crushing pain of loss. In her most recent novel, The Obituary Write, Hood explores loss and heartbreak in the lives of two women, one in post-San Francisco Earthquake, 1919 who is the obituary writer, the other, a young mother in the heady days of JFK’s 1960 inauguration. The author writes with such grace and intimacy that we rightly suspect the subject is one with which she has a more than passing familiarity.  

In 2004 Hood lost her 5-year old daughter to a strep infection. A terrible loss like this shouldn’t happen. When it does, the lives of families are swept asunder into chaos as they struggle to make sense of such an unbelievable blow and as they figure out how to carry on in spite of it. Hood’s gift of sharing the complex emotions of bereavement with intimacy and compassion enable her to create a story that is surprisingly neither unbearable nor painfully sad, but, instead, wonderfully illuminating.  

Each section of the book is prefaced with interesting and still-relevant bereavement advice from Emily Post’s 1922 book, Etiquette. As we jump between eras following each woman’s life we uncover the mystery of how these two are connected. At the end, reflecting on what we have just read, we hear the echoes of other losses in the novel. Perhaps we can now recognize and relate more skillfully to all the losses, both great and small in our lives and in the lives of those around us.