The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood

The Obituary WriterSometimes there is a book that just calls out to you and this is one of those. As I mentioned in a previous post, I was browsing the shelves at the library when the spine of this book caught my attention. I didn’t read it right away because I had some 14-day loaners and book club reads to get through but I swear this book was calling my name from the canvas bag by my desk.

I finally got a chance to read it and I was not disappointed. It’s about 300 pages and I got through it within a few hours.

In a summary from Goodreads:

On the day John F. Kennedy is inaugurated, Claire, an uncompromising young wife and mother obsessed with the glamour of Jackie O, struggles over the decision of whether to stay in a loveless marriage or follow the man she loves and whose baby she may be carrying.
Decades earlier, in 1919, Vivien Lowe, an obituary writer, is searching for her lover who disappeared in the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. By telling the stories of the dead, Vivien not only helps others cope with their grief but also begins to understand the devastation of her own terrible loss. The surprising connection between Claire and Vivien will change the life of one of them in unexpected and extraordinary ways.
Part literary mystery and part love story, The Obituary Writer examines expectations of marriage and love, the roles of wives and mothers, and the emotions of grief, regret, and hope.

Rating: 5 STARS!

I loved how Hood set up this book with two parallel stories set up in different eras. It was like reading two books in one. Each was different because of those generational gaps but connected. How Hood reveals that connection was perfect.

This book is by far not a happy one. Nor would you think that given the title but yet I was left feeling …. I don’t know how to describe it … content? hopeful? Even those don’t sound right. Alive … that seems to be more accurate.

Hood’s writing appears to jump off the page and into your heart. The heart ache of the characters is palpable and you can’t help but cry with them. I literally felt my heart breaking in a scene where a character dies. I felt like I was standing in the room with them. I could also feel the hope, the reservations, the anger and the joy. Like I said, it touches you.

Of the two stories, I liked them each in their own way but I definitely liked Vivien’s story the best. I felt like she had more depth to her. She is grieving over a love that she lost but she remains hopeful, even as she deals with her grief by writing other people’s obituaries. I also liked how she didn’t write a typical obituary.

“…these facts – degrees and numbers and jobs and affiliations – were not what made a life … when they were done, she would say again, “Tell me about your loved one.” That was when the person became to come to life.

Vivien’s character also evolves over time and I liked watching her slowly deal with her grief to learn how to live again.

Whereas Claire’s character was very linear. She is your typical housewife in the 1950s, who is basically stuck between a rock and a hard place. Stay in a loveless marriage or not. Hood does a good job of describing society’s trend during this time and what was expected out of women. Even if it is so damn frustrating.

I think that is what particularly stood out for me. I noticed how Vivien, who was living in 1919, on the eve of the women’s movement seemed to have more freedom to be who she was than Claire. Vivien has affairs with married men, is independent and has a job. She reminded me more of a modern day woman than Claire, who gave up her job to be a housewife and lives a mundane life that revolves her husband. It made me wonder, how did we go backwards?

This book has so much to offer to readers. I am glad that I listened to my gut and picked this up. I am looking forward to reading more of Hood’s works and hopefully get a copy of The Obituary Writer for my shelves.

Yours truly,

Book Admirer

Have you read this book? What did you think? Have any books ever called out to you? Did you enjoy them? Let’s discuss! Post in the comments below! 🙂

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