The Obituary Writer – A Novel, by Ann Hood
First on my list of 2013 summer reads is The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood. First off, it’s not really about writing obituaries or anything morbid like that. The book focuses on two women, each discussed in every-other chapter. First is Claire, her story taking place in 1960. Second is Vivien, whose story starts in 1919. At the start of the book we find both women in a place in their lives other than what each had imagined.
Claire is a suburban stay-at-home mother with a young child and another on the way. She believes the new baby may be the child of an affair, of which her husband has recently found out. Claire is unhappy with her current life, but has done little positive to change it. In fact, she clings to childhood notions of love and romance and what life is meant to be. She feels trapped in her life, but is unsure how to break free.
Vivien’s life has been marked by tragedy. She lost the love of her life, David, during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and has never fully recovered. Unwilling to be a participant in a new life going forward, she instead becomes an obituary writer, almost in a way to keep herself surrounded by others who share in her grieving.
Claire’s choices bring her to a cross-point in the road of her life when her mother-in-law Birdy has a birthday party. The events that take place immediately after cause Claire to grow up, to change, to learn what is important in life and to know what it means to create one’s happiness through gratitude.
Vivien meets a man who challenges her idea of love, life and happiness. It is only when forced to confront how short life really is that Vivien decides truly living life and being thankful for each day is worth moving beyond the cocoon of grief she has made.
The final chapters of the book bring Claire and Vivien together, answering the questions readers may have of what brings the whole book together in a cohesive unit. The Obituary Writer is a fast, easy read. The ultimate message seems to be that only by fully living and investing in making one’s life better can one achieve happiness. Not a bad message, after all. It has a rather happy ending, where everything worked out for the best. This is a good book for a beach read.
Next up on the summer reading list: The Interestings: A Novel, by Meg Wolitzer.