It’s 1919, and Vivien has spent 13 years mourning the loss of her life’s love. The last time she saw David, her married lover, was when he left her bed the morning of the San Francisco earthquake. She has spent the years since wondering whether he perished or is, by some miracle, alive but battling a case of amnesia.

To cope with her grief, Vivien helps others with theirs through her work as an obituary writer. The grieving come to her with broken hearts and memories of their loved ones. Over tea, toast and a comforting cup of broth, they share the stories of those they’ve lost. Vivien brings them to life once more through the written word.

It’s 1961, and Claire feels trapped in her marriage. Peter is a fine husband, though not particularly attentive. At some point, something snapped in Claire, and she found herself in bed with a married man—and Peter caught her there. Now she’s pregnant, unsure of whose child she’s bearing and feeling more isolated than ever. Will Peter forgive her? Does she even want him to?

It isn’t immediately clear how the two tales in Ann Hood’s new novel, The Obituary Writer, intersect, but parallels are evident. Vivien and Claire face individual challenges and quests for meaning in their lives as well as in their romantic relationships. Their compelling stories push the reader forward, to discover both how their lives may intertwine and how each resolves the unanswered questions in her relationships. Along the way, Hood, whose previous books include a memoir, Comfort, and a best-selling novel, The Knitting Circle, sensitively explores the complicated web of emotions associated with love, marriage, motherhood and the myriad expectations all women encounter.

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