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The Grief of Others Hardcover – September 15, 2011
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An engrossing and revealing look at a family sinking beneath the weight of a terrible secret. Cohen writes about difficult subjects with unfailing compassion and insight. * Tom Perrotta, author of 'Little Children' * With gorgeous prose, Cohen skillfully takes us from past to present and back again as she explores the ramifications of family loss, grief and longing. * Kirkus * Cohen is one of our foremost chroniclers of the mundane complexities, nuanced tragedies and unexpected tendernesses of human connection. * 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. * 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. * 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. * Library Journal * With this incredibly moving commentary, Cohen has secured a place in the lineup of today's great writers. * Bookpage * Cohen's new novel is a perceptive, absorbing drama about the complex bonds of the modern American family and the treacherous paradox of the way we live now. Somehow, the more open and flexible we try to become as spouses and parents, the more emotional risks we take-and the more secrets we keep. I love how deeply Cohen delves into the hearts of all her characters, bringing them fully alive, from their most heroic strivings to their darkest flaws. -- Julia Glass, author of 'The Widower's Tale' How does a family transcend its own pain? How do the secrets we keep shape our lives and the lives of those we love? In this gracefully written, elegantly structured novel, Leah Hager Cohen has created an indelible cast of characters whose story is at once wrenching and redemptive. This is a beautiful book. -- Dani Shapiro, author of 'Family History' A gorgeous, absorbing, intricately told tale of one family on the brink of collapse, as well as an intimate exploration of art and its place in our lives. Cohen expertly juggles six characters and all their needs, yearning, wounds, and secrets with tremendous skill and even more important-deep and tender compassion. She is a masterly writer on every level. -- Lily King, author of 'Father of the Rain' A delicate, haunting, and lovely, and very difficult to leave on the shelf. -- Susanna Daniel, author of 'Stiltsville' A wise and compassionate novel that looks frankly at the ways members of a family can wound and betray each other, even when trying to do just the opposite. Readers will be tempted to vilify Ricky, but she's much too complex for that. Despite the lies, subterfuges, and silences these characters inflict on one another, there are no villains here, just a family trying to carry on. -- Suzanne Berne, author of 'The Ghost at the Table' At once compact and sweeping. Cohen never strikes a false note in relating the complicated emotions of her characters. She has created a world both universal and particular. She illuminates all the ways it is glorious to be burdened with full-fledged humanity in the vast universe. -- Robb Forman Dew, author of 'The Evidence Against Her' Leah Hager Cohen writes like a dream and effortlessly inhabits each of her characters. She's not much known here yet, but lovers of family relationship literary fiction, such as Anne Tyler fans, need look no further. -- John Harding * Daily Mail * Cohen shows how people are warped by things that they choose to keep secret; her writing is wise and incredibly moving. -- Kate Saunders * Times * The Grief of Others has a lyrical bent and is affecting in its examination of unresolved sorrow * The Age, Australia * --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.
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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.