Friday, August 2, 2013

Ann Hood Has Done it Again

I first discovered Ann Hood when I read her memoir couched in a novel called The Red Thread. This lovely book spoke to the world of adoptive parents, specifically six sets of adults who for various reasons, had decided to adopt girls from China. Ms. Hood and her husband were one of those couples.

Red TreadBecause I loved this book I was thrilled to see a copy of her new one, The Obituary Writer, sitting on the new book shelf here in my own adopted home, Maryland. The cover art alone would have forced me to pick it up. I was not disappointed.

I've always been fascinated by obituaries. I read them enthusiastically
in every newspaper that I get my hands on. Whether written by the
family or by a professional, an obituary is a constant amazement to me.
What wonderfully interesting people there are out there in the world!
People who have loved, been loved, made a difference in so many lives,
unsung heroes, not just a compilation of dull facts but a once living,
breathing human being whose death has left a void that won't be filled.

So, does one have to have faced a loss, a death if you will, to be able to articulate that loss for others? I believe that Ann Hood asks this question and so much more in the small but heavy novel about a young woman, Vivian, whose great love went missing after the San Francisco earthquake back in 1906. Closure is not possible as David's body is ever discovered and though Vivian's friends try to help her work through her grief, it's a tangible thing that she chooses not to let go of. Rather, she turns to writing obituaries as a way to connect her loss to that of others.

Alternating chapters take us to another woman, Claire, in the heady year 1960. JFK is about to be inaugurated. Hope and change are in the air. (we already know how that works out) Women like Claire, married to men who want an empty head, a peaceful home, and a martini chilling when he strolls in from his hard day at the office, are beginning to awaken to the idea that there might just be something more.

 Claire embarks on a madly passionate affair with Miles, the complete opposite, in every conceivable way, of her own husband, Peter. The results will lead Claire to re-evaluate her upbringing, her own desires for her future and will bring her to a new understanding of her previously unknowable mother-in-law, Birdy.

Ms. Hood makes each woman's story compelling in its own right yet manages to connect the dots between the two in a way that the reader may begin to see. Guessing will not hurt your appreciation of this novel in any way. One intuits that Ms. Hood is no stranger to grief. I happened to remember that her own daughter died of a freak infection over ten years ago and I suspect it's safe to say that this loss informs all of her work. There is a chapter in this novel that will bring you to your knees in it's oh too truthful vision of what it must be like to lose one's child. This is the beauty of Ann Hood's writing and of this quite wondrous novel.


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