I love it when I am completely caught off-guard by a book.
I was sent an ARC of The Obituary Writer back in February by the good folks at W.W. Norton. It was unsolicited and completely out of my normal wheelhouse.
Two things compelled me to read it. One, they sent it to me and hey! free books! And second, the cover art of a Gastby-era girl sitting at a desk with a pen (presumably, I figured, the obituary writer of the title).
The book opens in 1961, weaving together the story of Claire, a wife and mother caught up in the dream of the Kennedy inauguration (and the fascination with Jackie) who’s had a scandalous affair and now may be carrying his baby and Vivian, an obituary writers in 1919, living in the grief of losing her lover in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. I was expecting this book to be kind of academic or slow or something and I found myself pouring over its pages with eagerness. I finished it in two days with almost a voyeuristic need to understand how these two women walked through the grief and loneliness of their lives.
Make no mistake. It’s not a happy book. It’s pages are permeated with loss, even in Claire’s story with the promise of Kennedy’s Camelot. It strikes of Gatsby, clinging too hard to things which are over, and hinted at John Irving’s familiar theme, the wanting of what one cannot have.
Hood’s writing was urgent and quiet and deft, plucking at emotions and the feel of life in these two distinct time periods. I would not be surprised if this ends up as a top 10 pick for me this year.