Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Grief of Others

Title:  The Grief of Others
Author:  Leah Hager Cohen
Publication Information:  Riverhead Books. 2011. 384 pages.

Book Source:  I found this book while browsing through our library's new books section.

Favorite Quote:  "We know more than we pretend to know. More than we presume we know. Even so, what we know would fill a teaspoon."

The Grief of Others begins with a devastating event - the death of an infant only a few hours old. The baby dies in the arms of its mother. The death is not a surprise. Based on prenatal testing, the mother knew the child would not live. Yet, the devastation of the loss is no less for having known it was coming. The rest of the story then tells  of the family as they come to grips with this loss and the secrets that emerge in the process.

The story weaves back and forth across time - from immediately following the death to a year or so later. The story also weaves back and forth between the family members - John (the father), Ricky (the mother), and the siblings Biscuit and Paul. In addition, we hear the stories of Jess, John's daughter from an earlier relationship, and the Gordie, a young man who is reeling from his own losses and gets involved with this family.

The first few pages of this book literally take your breath away. They paint a heart wrenching picture of a mother who holds her infant from his birth through the fifty some hours of his life until his death. The intensity of the emotions conveyed stays with me well after I have put the book down.

Unfortunately, I don't think there was any way possible for the rest of the book to live up to that opening. I found the rest of the book rather difficult to read. The writing style focused a lot on description. It sort of makes sense because grieving can be such a solitary process and very much an internal process. With each chapter focused on a different character, the book isolated that character's experience. However, it just made for difficult reading. It created a somewhat detached or removed feeling to the book which did  not match the intensity of the opening.

For the opening few pages though, I will always remember this book.

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