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The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood

This is Hood's fifth novel, but The Obituary Writer is the first Ann Hood book that I've read.  In theory the premise of this story is more interesting than the story actually turns out to be, and I guess I don't really have strong feelings one way or the other over this book much the same way I didn't really have strong feelings about the book in the previous review.  While one story is resolved and wrapped up, the resolution to the other part of the story is left ambiguous--like for me, I couldn't tell if it was going to go one way or the other way after the story was over and that bugged me a little bit.

Claire (same name, different spelling than the main character from the book in the previous review, a coincidence I didn't notice until I started writing up some notes for this review) is a housewife in 1963.  The mother of a toddler girl, Claire doesn't realize how unhappy she is in her marriage or how much she dislikes her husband until she meets, falls for, and embarks upon an affair with a married man she meets while working for John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign.

Miles is different from Claire's husband, Peter, in many ways and seems to fulfill her emotional needs in a way that Peter doesn't.  Peter's portrayed as a spoiled child used to getting his way, planning his and Claire's life together with little input from her or thought for her wants, needs or feelings; he assumes she'll just go along with things and it never occurs to him that she might have an opinion on these matters.  Now Claire carries her lover's baby, is cut off from further contact with him, and is tied to a husband who says he'll never forgive her for the affair.

The other half of the novel belongs to Vivien, a spinster in 1919, living in Napa, California.  Hers is a story rife with tragedy and grief.  The obituary writer of the title, Vivien offers comfort to the bereaved by bringing their lost loved ones back to life in the obituaries she writes.  Vivien understands grief acutely, intuitively and thoroughly, for she has mourned the loss of her lover, David, who was swallowed up in the chaos that followed the great earthquake in San Francisco in 1906.  All these years, Vivien has settled in Napa, holding stubbornly onto the hope that somewhere David lives, waiting for her to find him and remind him of the love they shared.  She has eschewed moving on and building a life instead choosing to hold tight the hope that someday she'll be reunited with the man she loves.

Vivien, herself taking part in an adulterous affair, has this much in common with Claire, but what else binds these women across a continent and half a century?  The astute reader will guess what it is long before the hints start to illuminate the connection between these two women.  In the end this is a story of two women stuck, mired in grief, buoyed by hopes and dreams, of how these things if held too tightly will keep them in the same place rather living a life and moving forward.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie


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