The Obituary Writer: A Novel Hardcover – 18 Jan 2013
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The Obituary Writer is a really engrossing book, drawing you in literally from page one. Using well-chosen and grounding details... Ann Hood gives us two women from very different time periods who share similar struggles in understanding aspects of love and grief. One of the things I admire most about this graceful and intimate writer is her literary sleight of hand: you don't so much read about her characters as you inhabit them. Reading this book, I felt acutely the sadness of loss, the deliciousness of gossip among a group of women friends, the frustration of miscommunication in marriage, the joys of sensuality. Creating such empathy on the part of a reader isn't easy: Ann Hood just makes it look that way. That's a gift, and we readers are the lucky recipients. --Elizabeth Berg author of "The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted" and "Tapestry of Fortunes"
The Obituary Writer is an engrossing book, drawing you in from page one. I admire this graceful and intimate writer for her literary sleight of hand: you don t so much read about her characters as you inhabit them. Reading this book, I felt acutely the sadness of loss, the deliciousness of gossip among a group of women friends, the frustration of miscommunication in marriage, the joys of sensuality. Creating such empathy on the part of a reader isn t easy: Ann Hood just makes it look that way. That s a gift, and we readers are the lucky recipients. --Elizabeth Berg author of The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted and Tapestry of Fortunes"
It is a rare novelist who can summon the creative nerve to plumb the depths of grief, but that's just what Ann Hood does here with such compassion and grace. The Obituary Writer is an unflinching exploration of loss and the love that somehow remains, one that both wounds and heals. This is a deeply engaging and moving book. --Andre Dubus III, author of Townie"
In this poignant and incisive novel, Ann Hood brings history back to life in the most intimate way, chronicling the love affairs and heartbreaks of two very different women in two very different times. Moving gracefully and persuasively between post-earthquake San Francisco and the early 1960s, The Obituary Writer makes unexpected connections between these two bygone eras, and in the process, manages to illuminate the present as well as the past. --Tom Perrotta, author of The Leftovers"
About the Author
Ann Hood is the editor of Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting and the best-selling author of The Book That Matters Most, The Knitting Circle, The Red Thread, Comfort, and An Italian Wife, among other works. She is the recipient of two Pushcart Prizes, a Best American Spiritual Writing Award, a Best American Food Writing Award, a Best American Travel Writing Award, and the Paul Bowles Prize for Short Fiction. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
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Set in two different times periods, Hood tells two stories that eventually come together at novel's end. Claire is a young mother in 1960, just as John F. Kennedy has become president. She has a young daughter, and wonders if this is all there is to be excited about in her marriage, especially as she embarks on an affair with a married man. The trip that Claire and her husband, Peter, make to visit his mother on her 80th birthday changes everything in their lives.
In 1919 Vivien is an obituary writer. She has a gift for being able to write obituaries that share the true essence of a person. She is also grieving the loss of her lover, David, in the San Franciso Earthquake in 1906. Vivien never truly believes he has died, and even thirteen years later continues to look for her lost love.
Rarely do I read a book with alternating narrators where I enjoy and relate to each narrator equally. Often I am skimming one person's narration while becoming totally absorbed in another character's. Not so with the Obituary Writer. I enjoyed both Vivien and Claire's stories. The ending Hood has crafted for The Obituary Writer leaves readers a bit of ambiguity, at least in my mind. I know how I feel this story ends, yet I would be curious what conclusions other readers have drawn.
The Obituary Writer, Hood's third novel, is sure to add to her growing number of fans.
These characters really came to life for me and I felt for both of them and wondered how their stories would end. Would Claire leave her husband or stay with him even though she felt unloved? Would she choose the lover instead? What about the baby? And what about Vivian, would she spend the rest of her life searching for David, never knowing where he was or what happened to him? She's been searching for thirteen years, how would she know when it was time to give up if ever?
The characters Hood creates are sympathetic and realistic and I was pulled into each woman's story and never felt the narration for either character lasted too long, each woman's experience was emotional and compelling. I thought the author did an excellent job detailing the emotions of her characters but especially the loss and mourning for all the characters who experience it.
This is the first novel by Ann Hood I've read and I wasn't sure what to expect, some of the reviews I read were mixed with criticism for how the author dropped product names to set the period for the story set in 1960. Having read that criticism I was prepared for the name dropping and I didn't find it distracting, though I could see how some readers might be bothered by it.
I liked the time periods the stories were set in and thought the details for each were well done. There were a few times when characters were clumsily introduced to the reader and there were a few awkward word choices and phrasings and a few editorial errors but over all this was an easy and enjoyable though, emotional read. I did question the realism of a few key details but I liked the rest of the story enough to suspend my disbelief and just enjoy the telling of it.
I really liked this story and while I have a few quibbles about the writing I think that the majority of it was very realistic and well done. I think this would be another good book club choice with lots of woman's issues to discuss.
~Just before the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, young Vivien falls in love with a dashing young attorney named David. They spend blissful days together until he departs the morning of the earthquake, never to be seen again. For thirteen years, Claire grieves and never stops looking for him. She simultaneously becomes an obituary writer, poetic and skilled, perhaps because she understands grief and grieving so well.
Ann Hood's novel alternates between their stories, moving them forward, intertwining their themes and their conclusions.
The book is moving and sad and wonderful and filled with truths and historic moments. When each woman's vignette ended, I couldn't wait to see how her next one started, but then there was the alternate story, tugging me forward. This was my first Ann Hood, and now I want to go back and read them all, from the beginning.
That being said, here are the Top Ten Things That Are Great About "The Obituary Writer."
10. It captures the 60s masterfully, right down to the hors d'oeuvres served at the neighborhood couple's dinners (one neighbor can artfully spread cheese whiz on a cracker just so). You'll happily flee to some nouvelle cuisine and perhaps remember what was considered elegant back then.
9. It reminded me of the feeling of hope that gripped the nation when Kennedy took office, and America's love for Jackie and the two children. Both Claire and her lover work on the campaign, and both can recite his entire acceptance speech.
8. Great historical moments from the San Francisco Earthquake, which devastated the city, spread fires ad disease, and broke so many lives. Vivien tells of how people went by the fountain every day, searching for loved ones who had vanished that fateful morning.
7. Hood understands grief. She understands how it never goes away, but lingers and changes shape and changes the lives of those who grieve. She explores it beautifully and painfully and in a very real way.
6. A reminder of the flu epidemics that wiped out so many after the turn of the century. At one point Vivien and her friend ponder that someday a mold they have discovered in Europe might cure some of these ailments.
5. The Napa Valley... back before it became trendy and shiny and corporate and bigger than life. These were the early winery years, when local families gathered at picnic tables at night, sharing food and wine and conversation while the children chased fireflies.
4. Two tender love stories that play with quirks in a relationship and things that bond people together. Claire loves how her lover cocks his head and listens to her, as if he is interested. Vivien's love story is almost a fairytale, set in the City by the Bay.
3. Hood clearly knows how difficult it is travelling, pregnant, with an unhappy toddler whose favorite toy has been left behind. Add a blizzard and you'll be glad you're not there.
2. Claire's struggle to be a good and obedient wife to a husband who is probably a decent enough guy, with his own view of what his wife should be. Claire is truly a character of the time, and let's acknowledge "We've come a long way, baby."
1. The ambiguity of the ending. Do we find love? Peace? Comfort? Happiness? More grief? All things worth pondering.
The Obituary Writer is the tale of two women in two different eras.
In 1919, Vivien Lowe has made a new life for herself after losing the man she loved in the devastation of the San Francisco earthquake. Now living in Napa, California, she is well known for writing obituaries that truly capture the deceased person's life and spirit. She has come to terms with her own grief by telling these stories of the dead.
In 1961 on the day John Fitzgerald Kennedy is inaugurated as President of the United States, Claire knows that her life is at a turning point. Should she stay in a loveless marriage, or should she follow the man she loves and whose baby she may be carrying? She's tried everything she knows to be the perfect wife and mother, but nothing seems to penetrate her husband's attitude of self-importance and entitlement. Soon a connection between the two women will change the life of one of them in ways she never would have imagined.
I enjoyed Ann Hood's writing style throughout this book, and although Vivien's story was touching, I found Claire's to be the stronger one in terms of holding my interest. It was as though Hood created an early 1960s time capsule that had me remembering so very many things from my early childhood.
Yes, the book is well written and flows smoothly to the end, but I never really found myself caught up in it. Vivien never really came to life for me; it was as if her grief had wrapped her in cotton batting that kept me from getting too close. Claire irritated me, and I freely admit that it's more my fault than hers. Although her story reminded me of so much from my childhood, unlike Claire, the women in my family never filled me with the "party line" on how to be a perfect wife and mother. Claire and I see the world in very different ways-- so different that it was impossible for me to identify with her. I also surmised the connection between the two women from the first few pages of the book, and that unfortunately stripped away much of the emotional power of the book.
Did I enjoy The Obituary Writer? Yes, I did, even though I did not bond emotionally with Vivien and Claire as I suspect I was intended to do. Ann Hood writes beautifully, and I'm definitely going to look for other books that she's written.