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Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Grief of Others

The Grief of Others
Leah Hager Cohen
Riverhead Books, 2011

When John and Ricky’s third child dies soon after birth, the family tries to cope with their grief by pretending that everything is normal, but Biscuit knows it’s not. Biscuit is ten years old, and she believes the baby’s death is her fault. She has stolen a book from the library about different cultures rituals surrounding death and has decided to skip school, again, to throw the baby’s ashes in the river. Unfortunately, Biscuit chooses to run past her own school and her classmates spot her, which brings her father to school to deal with the matter. This seemingly inconsequential event of a child skipping school is what finally breaks the family into two.

Ricky has been keeping a secret for a long time – ever since she found out that the baby she was carrying had a serious birth defect that would now allow him to live long after birth. Not only did she not tell John about the birth defect until right before the birth, she didn’t tell him how long she had known herself. Naturally, John feels betrayed when he discovers this secret and this causes a further rift in the family. When Jennifer, John’s daughter by a previous relationship, shows up stating that she is pregnant herself, the family falls apart. Paul, who is 13, is being bullied at school and is worried about his friendship with another boy. John considers an extramarital affair. And Ricky finally realizes what is important to her but it may be too late to change the course of her own decisions.

This is a thoughtful and sobering story about the power of a secret, especially the damaging effects it can have on a family. Ricky had her reasons for keeping information to herself, but in reality she chose a selfish way to experience her son, denying her husband any part of the experience or even the ability to make his own decisions. She even denied him the chance to help her deal with the situation -- which seemed to me to be the ultimate betrayal. I had a hard time understanding Ricky and I had very little sympathy for her.

It may seem impossible for this family to overcome the sadness and grief they are experiencing, and even harder for the reader to have any hope for them to find a way to save themselves. Despite this, the book is worth reading, even if the dysfunction threatens to overwhelm the interesting and dynamic characters.


Other novels by this author:
Heat Lightning (1997)
House Lights (2007)

Other titles you may enjoy:

Blue Water by A. Manette Ansay (2006)
Devastated when their six-year-old son is killed by a drunk driver, Meg's childhood friend, Cindy Ann Kreisler, Meg Van Dorn and her husband Rex purchase a boat, planning to leave their old life behind forever, but they soon discover that it is impossible to escape the past and all its complexities.

Lost in the Forest by Sue Miller (2005)
For Eva, the divorced and happily remarried mother of three children, and her adolescent middle child, Daisy, the death of Eva's second husband John in a car accident turns their lives upside down.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards (2005)
In a tale spanning twenty-five years, a doctor delivers his newborn twins during a snowstorm and, rashly deciding to protect his wife from their baby daughter's affliction with Down Syndrome, turns her over to a nurse, who secretly raises the child.

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