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The Obituary Writer: A Novel Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (February 25, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393081427
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393081428
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (328 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,898 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Best-selling novelist Hood (The Red Thread, 2010) has fashioned a diptych of two seemingly unconnected women. Claire, an unhappy suburban housewife and mother inspired by John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign and Jackie’s glamour, has a brief, ultimately tragic affair. Lovely and romantic Vivien, an English teacher in San Francisco, falls in love with a married man who disappears in the Great Earthquake of 1906. Bereft, she becomes the most sympathetic and poetic of obituary writers. Vivien is hypnotic; her vocation provides moving testimony to the healing power of language, and her wrenching story offers fascinating glimpses into the prejudices and traumas of her time. Claire’s predicament anticipates the first stirrings of the second wave of feminism, but it’s a tired tale flattened by melodrama, and readers will discern the connection between the women long before its disclosure. Still, Hood’s language is fine and supple, the settings are lusciously rendered, the melancholy air is seductive, her use of quotes about bereavement from Emily Post’s 1922 Etiquette is bittersweet, and her intricate inquiry into grief, guilt, and love is haunting. --Donna Seaman


The Obituary Writer is an engrossing book, drawing you in from page one. I admire this graceful and intimate writer for her literary sleight of hand: you don’t so much read about her characters as you inhabit them. Reading this book, I felt acutely the sadness of loss, the deliciousness of gossip among a group of women friends, the frustration of miscommunication in marriage, the joys of sensuality. Creating such empathy on the part of a reader isn’t easy: Ann Hood just makes it look that way. That’s a gift, and we readers are the lucky recipients.” (Elizabeth Berg author of The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted and Tapestry of Fortunes)

“It is a rare novelist who can summon the creative nerve to plumb the depths of grief, but that's just what Ann Hood does here with such compassion and grace. The Obituary Writer is an unflinching exploration of loss and the love that somehow remains, one that both wounds and heals. This is a deeply engaging and moving book.” (Andre Dubus III, author of Townie)

“In this poignant and incisive novel, Ann Hood brings history back to life in the most intimate way, chronicling the love affairs and heartbreaks of two very different women in two very different times. Moving gracefully and persuasively between post-earthquake San Francisco and the early 1960s, The Obituary Writer makes unexpected connections between these two bygone eras, and in the process, manages to illuminate the present as well as the past.” (Tom Perrotta, author of The Leftovers)

More About the Author

Ann Hood is the author of the bestselling novels THE RED THREAD, THE KNITTING CIRCLE and SOMEWHERE OFF THE COAST OF MAINE. Her memoir, COMFORT: A JOURNEY THROUGH GRIEF, in which she shares her personal story of losing her 5 year old daughter Grace in 2002, was a New York Times Editor's Choice and named one of the top 10 non-fiction books of 2008. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

Customer Reviews

I loved this story from the very first page right to the end.
Terri DuLong
This is a good, well written read that I definitely recommend if you enjoy historical fiction.
I liked this book, the story was interesting and liked the two characters.
S. Davis

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

93 of 102 people found the following review helpful By Tina Says VINE VOICE on January 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Ann Hood's novels are ones I have a hard time getting out of my mind long after I am done reading them. The Obituary Writer is her latest novel, soon to be published, and no exception.

Set in two different times periods, Hood tells two stories that eventually come together at novel's end. Claire is a young mother in 1960, just as John F. Kennedy has become president. She has a young daughter, and wonders if this is all there is to be excited about in her marriage, especially as she embarks on an affair with a married man. The trip that Claire and her husband, Peter, make to visit his mother on her 80th birthday changes everything in their lives.
In 1919 Vivien is an obituary writer. She has a gift for being able to write obituaries that share the true essence of a person. She is also grieving the loss of her lover, David, in the San Franciso Earthquake in 1906. Vivien never truly believes he has died, and even thirteen years later continues to look for her lost love.

Rarely do I read a book with alternating narrators where I enjoy and relate to each narrator equally. Often I am skimming one person's narration while becoming totally absorbed in another character's. Not so with the Obituary Writer. I enjoyed both Vivien and Claire's stories. The ending Hood has crafted for The Obituary Writer leaves readers a bit of ambiguity, at least in my mind. I know how I feel this story ends, yet I would be curious what conclusions other readers have drawn.
The Obituary Writer, Hood's third novel, is sure to add to her growing number of fans.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Pamela R. Satran on March 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I loved this absorbing, compelling book about two women on the brink -- doing their best to live generously in the face of loss, to make sense of the real love on offer versus the ideal out of reach. Set during two time periods when the world was changing radically, especially for women, Ann Hood's wonderful novel examines individual lives on the brink of revolution, personal and global. I was equally engrossed in both stories and was as excited as I was disappointed to leave one and turn to the next. The choices that both of Ann Hood's heroines make are difficult, surprising, moving, universal. This is the perfect book for a book club discussion on how much things have changed for women and how much stays the same. Share it with your mother, your grandmother, your daughter -- ideal for an intergenerational discussion. I loved it and will recommend it to all my friends!
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42 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Barb Mechalke VINE VOICE on February 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
'The Obituary Writer' tells the story of two women living in very different times. In 1960, Claire is struggling to figure out her marriage, not sure if she still loves her husband, she's been having an affair and knows there's a very good chance the baby she's carrying is the other man's. In 1919 Vivian is searching for her lover David, who she hasn't seen since he left for work the morning of April 18, 1906, the day an earthquake devastated the city of San Francisco.

These characters really came to life for me and I felt for both of them and wondered how their stories would end. Would Claire leave her husband or stay with him even though she felt unloved? Would she choose the lover instead? What about the baby? And what about Vivian, would she spend the rest of her life searching for David, never knowing where he was or what happened to him? She's been searching for thirteen years, how would she know when it was time to give up if ever?

The characters Hood creates are sympathetic and realistic and I was pulled into each woman's story and never felt the narration for either character lasted too long, each woman's experience was emotional and compelling. I thought the author did an excellent job detailing the emotions of her characters but especially the loss and mourning for all the characters who experience it.

This is the first novel by Ann Hood I've read and I wasn't sure what to expect, some of the reviews I read were mixed with criticism for how the author dropped product names to set the period for the story set in 1960. Having read that criticism I was prepared for the name dropping and I didn't find it distracting, though I could see how some readers might be bothered by it.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By E. Burian-Mohr VINE VOICE on March 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
~Jack Kennedy has just been elected president. Claire is a young mother, pregnant with her second child. She's in a flawed marriage and finds love with a married man. Her husband catches them in the act and the marriage struggles along, along with the pregnancy, and the upcoming inauguration.

~Just before the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, young Vivien falls in love with a dashing young attorney named David. They spend blissful days together until he departs the morning of the earthquake, never to be seen again. For thirteen years, Claire grieves and never stops looking for him. She simultaneously becomes an obituary writer, poetic and skilled, perhaps because she understands grief and grieving so well.

Ann Hood's novel alternates between their stories, moving them forward, intertwining their themes and their conclusions.
The book is moving and sad and wonderful and filled with truths and historic moments. When each woman's vignette ended, I couldn't wait to see how her next one started, but then there was the alternate story, tugging me forward. This was my first Ann Hood, and now I want to go back and read them all, from the beginning.

That being said, here are the Top Ten Things That Are Great About "The Obituary Writer."

10. It captures the 60s masterfully, right down to the hors d'oeuvres served at the neighborhood couple's dinners (one neighbor can artfully spread cheese whiz on a cracker just so). You'll happily flee to some nouvelle cuisine and perhaps remember what was considered elegant back then.

9. It reminded me of the feeling of hope that gripped the nation when Kennedy took office, and America's love for Jackie and the two children.
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