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On the day John F. Kennedy is inaugurated, Claire, a young wife and mother obsessed with the glamour of Jackie, struggles over the decision of whether to stay in a loveless but secure marriage or to 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 these two women will change Claire’s life 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.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Kathi on 03-06-13
Parallel stories of love and loss
Would you consider the audio edition of The Obituary Writer to be better than the print version?
It might be, but I have not seen the written version.
If you could take any character from The Obituary Writer out to dinner, who would it be and why?
Vivian, because she had a deep understanding of what it takes to help a person process grief, although she had her own deep sense of loss through much of the book. The important thing was that in her role of writing obituaries, she knew that simple facts, such as birth and death dates, do not say anything about who the person *was* in their lives. She understood the power of healing narrative.
Any additional comments?
This book is an unusual exploration of human yearnings and grief told through parallel stories of two women struggling to find love, and make sense of losses through challenging circumstances. For one woman, Vivian, her lover has been lost in the great San Francisco earthquake, and she cannot give up hope of finding him. Claire, a woman living in the early 60's is agonizing over being with her husband or a man she has had an affair with (whose baby she is probably carrying). Initially it seems their lives have no connection, but the mystery unfolds through the book, which reveals how even the distance of half a century may be closed in unusual ways.
The most powerful parts of this book are the moving passages in which grief is explored. Through telling the stories of people who have died (as preparation for the obituaries she will be writing) Vivian helps those who are grieving bring the dead back to life in and through memory, which is a very healing process.
The attention to details in description also brings the entire book to life for the reader. Just as Vivian asks mourners for the smallest details of the lives of their loved departed, the author gives us small details of description that makes this book rich in a way that draws the reader deeply into it. Although the themes of death and loss permeate this book, it is a very compelling listen.
It is also very interesting to step back in time to two different eras, and realize what women's lives were like then. Each woman is facing and understanding her own struggle through the social ideas and pressures of her own time.
27 of 27 people found this review helpful
By Carole T. on 03-20-14
Good and Bad News
I loved Vivien, the 1919 title character of "The Obituary Writer". Her story is haunting and leaps off the page. She's a survivor of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake with unresolved issues of loss and uncertainty - and she fills some of her own need and anguish in dealing brilliantly with the grief and mourning of others in her obituary tributes.
The book is divided, alternating Vivien's story with that of Claire, an early-1960's suburban housewife. Claire's life and trials are, unfortunately, not as compelling. She's a very familiar example of "Feminine Mystique" discontent of the era. There's a wonderful bit about the local wives' betting pool on what Jackie Kennedy will wear to the Presidential inauguration festivities, but mostly I was just anxious to get back to 1919.
Much of the anticipation and suspense of "The Obituary Writer" is in connecting these two women somehow. Unfortunately, that process isn't entirely successful and comes across as rushed and pretty much contrived. It's not a crime for a novel to leave some unanswered questions and unresolved issues - confusion, frustration, and the feeling that something is deeply wrong do not, however, add up to a satisfying conclusion.
So, there was disappointment in this listening experience, but I will not soon forget the lessons that Vivien has to teach about grief and memory. Because of that, and because of Vivien's early story, I do give something of a qualified recommendation to this book.
8 of 8 people found this review helpful