Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood

A riveting and ominous tale of loss, love and heartbreak set in both 1919 and the early 1960s.  The 1919 story involves a past love who most likely perished in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and a woman, Vivian, who cannot get over her loss.  Vivian is "the kept woman" to David, a married man who might or might not leave his wife for her.  The earthquake ends whatever future they might have, but Vivian is determined to find him and she is still hoping for a passionate, heartfelt reunion all the way until 1919, when she finds out the truth. 

Tying in with that is the tale of Claire, a 1960s housewife who sees her love for her husband and the life she has made for herself slipping away.  It's not that she's powerless to do anything about's just that she is unsure whether she wants to stop her sedate, mundane life from slipping out of control.  Her story is set during the inauguration of President Kennedy in early 1961; she looks to Jackie Kennedy as an icon for beauty, stability and class.  As President Kennedy and Jackie's story sets out, her own story begins to crumble...including her husband walking in on her affair with another married man and then her pregnancy by either her lover or her husband. 

At first, I could not see how these two stories would intersect but as the stories progressed, Hood sets up patterns of misery and disillusionment in each woman that is so compelling that really doesn't matter.  And then with the connection between 1961 and 1919 is revealed, it is believable and natural.  I've read most every novel (she also writes some nonfiction) Hood has written and to the best of my memory, this is the first time she has set a novel in two different time periods (usually, her novels involve one main character (usually female) with her own set of issues and concerns).  Well, for a first time out, the concept works, bringing to life both women, both of their worlds and both of their fully fleshed out emotional struggles.  The vibrancy and passion in the writing helps us to both visualize and sympathize with both ladies' tales of pain.  A lesser writer would have had trouble creating sympathetic characters out of two adulteresses, but Hood's careful attention to the character's inner turmoils allow us to not only sympathize with the two ladies, but possibly even relate to them.