Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood

First Line: If Claire had to look back and decide why she had the affair in the first place, she would point to the missing boy.

The Obituary Writer is the tale of two women in two different eras. 

In 1919, Vivien Lowe has made a new life for herself after losing the man she loved in the devastation of the San Francisco earthquake. Now living in Napa, California, she is well known for writing obituaries that truly capture the deceased person's life and spirit. She has come to terms with her own grief by telling these stories of the dead.

In 1961 on the day John Fitzgerald Kennedy is inaugurated as President of the United States, Claire knows that her life is at a turning point. Should she stay in a loveless marriage, or should she follow the man she loves and whose baby she may be carrying? She's tried everything she knows to be the perfect wife and mother, but nothing seems to penetrate her husband's attitude of self-importance and entitlement. Soon a connection between the two women will change the life of one of them in ways she never would have imagined.

I enjoyed Ann Hood's writing style throughout this book, and although Vivien's story was touching, I found Claire's to be the stronger one in terms of holding my interest. It was as though Hood created an early 1960s time capsule that had me remembering so very many things from my early childhood.

Yes, the book is well written and flows smoothly to the end, but I never really found myself caught up in it. Vivien never really came to life for me; it was as if her grief had wrapped her in cotton batting that kept me from getting too close. Claire irritated me, and I freely admit that it's more my fault than hers. Although her story reminded me of so much from my childhood, unlike Claire, the women in my family never filled me with the "party line" on how to be a perfect wife and mother. Claire and I see the world in very different ways-- so different that it was impossible for me to identify with her. I also surmised the connection between the two women from the first few pages of the book, and that unfortunately stripped away much of the emotional power of the book.

Did I enjoy The Obituary Writer? Yes, I did, even though I did not bond emotionally with Vivien and Claire as I suspect I was intended to do. Ann Hood writes beautifully, and I'm definitely going to look for other books that she's written.

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood
ISBN: 9780393081428
W.W. Norton and Company © 2013
Hardcover, 304 pages

Historical Fiction, Standalone
Rating: C
Source: Amazon Vine


  1. Cathy - Thanks for a thoughtful and honest review as ever. It's a shame that Vivian's story never really drew you in, as I was curious about her right away. And as for Claire's story? That was such an important decade, I might read the book just for the sense of time and place. It's not easy to pull off two timelines like that. I'm glad you enjoyed it even if it isn't on your 'best I've ever read' list.

    1. The sections about the 60s alone make the book well worth reading!

  2. This book really intrigues me...I might have to add this onto my TBR list! Thanks for the heads up!

    Stiletto Storytime

  3. I enjoyed this one overall -- the writing was definitely pleasant to read. But I felt conflicted and troubled by some of the details.

    Nice review!

    1. Thanks, Andi. Yes, I found a few troubling things in the book as I read, too.


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