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The Grief of Others Hardcover – September 15, 2011
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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"Cohen creates gorgeous, uncommon descriptions that sound like grace notes on her pages. . . . There's pain in reading this book, but there's another thread running through it, too, gleaming with all the vibrancy of Cohen's prose: hope."
-The Washington Post
"Leah Hager Cohen is one of our foremost chroniclers of the mundane complexities, nuanced tragedies and unexpected tendernesses of human connection. . . . For all its deep-seated sorrows, this is a hopeful book, a series of striking vignettes illuminating the humanity of these fully realized characters."
-The New York Times Book Review
"In this subtle portrait of family life she shows the maddening arithmetic of marriage, the useless attempts to balance the equation. As Ricky and John's kids start to come unglued themselves, we see how the grief of others is contagious. . . . Ms. Cohen's painstaking excavation pays off, especially as Ricky and John decide to rebuild."
-The New York Times
"Part of the novel's pathos lies in its ability to offer its characters a level of perceptive acuity and sympathetic attention they cannot offer one another ... The book's brilliance lies in moments like this one, these shards of devastating insight. Cohen's empathy is sure-footed and seemingly boundless; her writing gifts its characters with glints of ordinary human radiance. It is the possibility of this glinting that ultimately becomes Cohen's most powerful gift to us, her readers, as well."
-San Francisco Chronicle
"Cohen's stunning writing and ruthless, beautiful magnification of soul- crushing sorrow that threatens the Ryries' day-to-day family life mesmerizes, wounds, and possibly even heals her readers. Her courageous novel (she knows of what she writes) is to be savored."
[Audio Review] Perhaps the only thing that can help one endure grief is the understanding that the feeling may one day lessen in intensity, its edges smoothing with time. While the characters in this audiobook are far from that awareness, caught as they are in the torment of having lost loved ones, the listener has Pam Ward s performance to shine a soft light. Ward is consistently gentle throughout the painful turns of this novel, her voice empathetic and appropriately wistful. Her skilled phrasing spans time shifts and voices that range from those of toddlers to adults with nary a hesitation. The only time the listener may be pulled from this engrossing novel is to marvel at its affecting writing. Altogether, this is a remarkable audiobook. ----AudioFile Earphones Award Winner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Leah Hager Cohen is the author of four nonfiction books, including Train Go Sorry and Glass, Paper, Beans, and three novels, most recently House Lights. Among the honors her books have received are selection as a New York Times Notable Book (four times); inclusion in the American Library Association Ten Best Books of the Year; and selection as a Book Sense 76 pick. She is a frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review.
Top customer reviews
The story moves back and forth between John and Ricky Ryrie, their children Paul and Biscuit, John's pregnant eldest daughter from a previous relationship, Jess, and a stranger, Gordie. Binding them all together, as most of humanity is bound together, are the threads of birth and death.
Cohen's compassionate prose slides easily between the year since the baby was born and died, and the first time Jess met her biological father. In all the Ryrie's memories, that long ago holiday was a golden time, a time of perfect happiness in which the possibility of death, while a real threat (a single mother drowns in the lake, leaving behind two orphaned children) cannot touch them.
But death - in the form of baby Simon - does touch the family and, in doing so, cracks their fears and flaws, their wounds and worries, wide open. The underlying question in the story is whether that perfect holiday was an illusion. Or was the love underpinning it real enough to salvage the family from their current crisis of grief and pain?
The last chapter, however, was a bit strange: there were a few questions raised (did John sleep with Madeleine? Were Gordie's father's dioramas put on show?) that were dealt with tangentially, as the story shifted from the personal details of a family we, as readers, have come to know intimately, to a more universal viewpoint. I suggest that this was an attempt to link the personal with the collective; to show that all the joys and sorrows of life are shared not only by individual families, but by all people, loved ones and strangers alike. For me, though, while the philosophy behind the chapter was interesting and well-written, the abrupt change of style was confusing, pulling me out of my involvement with the Ryries, rather than leaving me with a sense of restoration and completion.
Overall, though, THE GUILT OF OTHERS is a tender and moving story, beautifully written and held together with the lightest of touches
When their third child is born anencephalic, his death is a certainty. In fact, he lives for fifty-seven hours.
Then the family shifts into everyday life, with scarcely a blink, and their separate grief unfolds in symptomatic ways that reveal the testing of the bonds that connect them.
The Grief of Others is narrated in alternating perspectives, moving back and forth between the past and present. In the beginning, we see the ten-year-old daughter Biscuit struggling with her own ritualistic way of dealing with what has happened.
Paul, the thirteen-year-old, is silently suffering while being brutally bullied by classmates.
And John and Ricky, the parents, move along parallel pathways, seldom connecting at all, until it is soon apparent that the events of loss were not the trigger for their disintegrating marriage, but the instrument that casts a spotlight upon what is wrong in their relationship. Secrets, betrayals, and lies are all gradually revealed as the reader turns the pages.
A wild card in this tragic family portrait is Jess, John's daughter from a youthful relationship; her unexpected appearance could tip the fragile balance between them all. She is in her early twenties and has only spent time with the Ryries once before, on a vacation to the family cabin when she was in her early teens.
Will Jess's needs somehow breathe life into the disintegrating family? Will her presence somehow bring the family together? Or will her individual set of lies and secrets cast the final stone on the funeral pyre that seemingly defines the family group?
This story was beautifully crafted and the characterizations were rich and multilayered, lending an authenticity to the drama as it played out, showing the reader that families are often comprised of individuals living parallel existences until something or someone helps shift the balance to bring about a kind of catharsis.
I recommend this story for anyone who wants to understand the nature of grief, and its effect on individuals and on the family. Four stars. I deducted a star for one missing ingredient: emotion.