Rating: 3 / 5
Ann Hood’s latest novel is two stories that tie together at the last chapter. At one end is Claire, who, in the early 1960s, is married to Peter with one daughter and one child on the way. Although she is typical suburban wife and has dutifully played her role, she yearns for more, and ultimately has an affair with a neighbor’s friend. The other story is about Vivien, an obituary writer in 1919. She stumbled upon her profession by accident, but excels at it since she has also been grieving for years. Her lover, David Gardner, has been missing since the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, and though it has been 13 years since that devastating event, she still clings to the hope that he is not gone, but simply missing or lost.
Hood did a remarkable job bringing both protagonists alive, making them realistic and making the reader sympathize and understand their plights. I often take for granted that in this day and age, women are pretty much seen as equal (or slowly inching closer) to men, but this wasn’t always the case. Reading stories like The Obituary Writer make me grateful that society is welcoming of women who work outside the house, who get college and graduate degrees, and women who have values and opinions of their own. While I am sympathetic to Vivien and Claire, and the social norms and restrictions placed on them, I struggled with the fact that both of them had affairs, especially Vivien.
I also did not understand the fact that after 13 years Vivien knew nothing about David’s whereabouts. Sure, the technology was primitive considered to the various news and information outlets we have today, but David had a family and a law partner; Vivien should have had some definitive way to find out if David had survived or not.
What kept me reading was the desire to find out what happened to David, and also what happened to Claire and Peter’s marriage. The novel would have been better had the ending actually been an ending, instead of a seemingly slight pause; as the book is only 300 pages, there was room for more story.