Thanks so much to Blackstone Audio and Audiobook Jukebox for allowing us to listen to The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood. The telling of this tale, which bounces back and forward from the early 1900’s to the early 1960’s, was beautiful in its narration by Tavia Gilbert. I did find the story to be quite predictable but with Ms. Gilbert’s help and the strong characters of Vivian and Claire I did find myself enjoying it more than I thought I would. It also helps that all of the 60’s scenes reminded me a lot of AMC’s Mad Men, which I am totally obsessed with right now!
It is 1961 and Claire is married to Peter, who is a wonderful provider to her and their young daughter Kathy. She tries really hard to be the perfect little wife– dressing to the nines each day, having dinner and drinks ready and waiting when Peter comes home from work, reading up on current events in Life Magazine so that they will have something to discuss at the dinner table, keeping the house in tip-top shape and pretending that she is mad about raising Kathy in their happy little home. But the truth is Claire is bored! Bored with her house, bored with her kid and definitely bored with her husband. The abduction of a neighbourhood boy prompts Claire into a bit of a sexual awakening and she has an affair with a man she meets while campaigning for JFK. Peter finds out about the affair after Claire discovers she is pregnant– she is not sure who the baby daddy is!
Meanwhile Vivian is a young, free spirit living in San Francisco in the early 1900’s. She meets up with a married man (David) when in her early 20s and they connect instantly. They move in together quite quickly (which is TOTALLY against the grain of the times) but they are madly in love. Their whirlwind romance is frowned upon by her BFF, Lottie– “he will never leave his wife, you know!”– but he will never get the chance. As he leaves for work one morning the devastating San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 strikes. David is never seen again and Vivian never recovers. She becomes a ghost of her former self and “falls” into the job of obituary writer to cope with her grief– she understands loss totally and completely and her obituaries become famous.
Of course, these 2 characters are somehow connected (it becomes quite clear early on in my opinion) and both stories are revealed in bits and pieces. There was just enough in each chapter that you were anxiously awaiting for more and more to be revealed. There were no HUGE shocks (well, maybe one) but it was very well written. There was a scene with Vivian and Lottie that just broke my heart in two (it had me bawling into my tomatoes– I was listening while gardening one Saturday!) and the details of both time periods were lots of fun to read (the descriptions of the Napa Valley and post earthquake San Francisco were particularly wonderfully drawn)! A bit of a cheesy story but sometimes a little cheese is delicious! 3.5 stars from me.