“The Grief of Others” is a story about love and loss, secrets, forgiveness, and the complex layers of grief within a family unit. The readers’ first introduction is to the fragile, anencephalic infant Simon, and his mother Ricky who refuses to let go of him for the entire 57 hours that he is alive. His short life, and his mothers’ secret knowledge of his condition before he was born, are the events which lead to the near collapse of the Ryrie family as they struggle to carry on with life as normal. As secrets kept are revealed, John and Ricky must face their past mistakes, acknowledge their true feelings about the past and present, and find forgiveness and acceptance. Absorbed with their personal torments of sorrow and shame, they miss the warning signs that their two young children (13 year old Paul and 10 year old Elizabeth ‘Biscuit’) are having difficulties of their own. Daily bullying at school and poor self-esteem have pushed Paul to cling desperately to his one and only friend, while Biscuit has become obsessed with burial rituals and nearly drowns while attempting to perform one. As one more family member emerges –Jess (a daughter of Paul’s from a previous college romance), Ricky finds hope and seeks to redeem herself with her husband by accepting her into their family and helping her during her own time of crisis. Beautifully written. Believable and likeable characters. For readers who like books by Darien Gee (Friendship bread) and Miriam Toews
Reviewed by BO
Loved the language, the style--I will look for other novels by this author. As another reviewer noted, the initial premise is a bit off, but the nuanced portrayal of grief is spot on. I loved the idea that you can't will yourself to forgive someone, it just happens--all those daytime talk shows to the contrary.
It has no shape but fills a room. It isolates, alienates and afflicts. It has no measure but spans great lengths of time. As its title implies, grief rests at the heart of "The Grief of Others," a novel about a family who refuses to share their palpable mourning.
Each member of The Ryrie family suffers as a result of the tragic loss described in the novel's first chapter: John harbours guilt for choosing the "fun" career of theatre design; Ricky resents her generous corporate paycheck; Biscuit (Elizabeth) cuts school and becomes obsessed with funereal practices; and Paul fights a lonely battle against school bullies. The book's cast also includes the eccentric Gordie and his Newfie, who befriend the Ryeries serendipitously as well as Jess, John's daughter from a previous relationship, who keeps secrets of her own.
Cohen works magic with figurative language; her prose conveys delicacy, edginess and meaning while her tone remains free from maudlin sentimentality. The private trials of her characters and their displays of unresolved anguish hold the reader's engagement. The plot does demand a degree of belief suspension because the complexity of Ricky's tragedy, based on an unrealistic decision, damages the story's authenticity. What is believable, however, is the grace and unity each character ultimately attains.
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