…powerful…If it all seems overly depressing, consider that even as her characters spiral closer to self-destruction, Cohen creates gorgeous, uncommon descriptions that sound like grace notes on her pages…There's pain in reading this book, but there's another thread running through it, too, gleaming with all the vibrancy of Cohen's prose: hope.
The Washington Post
Cohen's fourth novel is a meditation on loss, ssuffering, and secrets. The death of John and Ricky Ryrei's third child pushes the family to the brink of disintegration. The children, "Biscuit" and Paul, 10 and 13, deal in different ways: Biscuit creates private rituals and Paul, overweight and bullied, clings to his only friend, Baptiste, who also faces loss. Ricky's confession that she kept knowledge that might have saved their baby to herself pushes John away, but also results in a surprising shift in their "marital relations." The arrival of John's illegitimate daughter, Jess, brings hope to the family, but the secrets she carries will only further complicate matters. Cohen aptly illustrates the capacity to suffer privately beneath a normal exterior, succeeding best when exploring Ricky's many conflicts. Cohen seems to suggest that our inability to communicate leaves us struggling in our own private, tortured worlds. Yet, paradoxically, when feelings are finally articulated, the novel flounders. Still, this is an ambitious novel offering insight into the rift between the public and the private, and illuminating the many ways in which we deal with tragedy. (Sept.)
With this incredibly moving commentary, Cohen has secured a place in the lineup of today's great writers.
New York Times Book Review
Leah Hager Cohen is one of our foremost chroniclers of the mundane complexities, nuanced tragedies and unexpected tendernesses of human connection...Impressively, her fourth novel, "The Grief of Others," is her best work yet...Cohen's style is crisp but compassionate, lyrical only so far as is necessary to lift her characters' lives into emotional ether...Leah Hager Cohen drives home our ability to attach to something small and doomed simply because it exists...For all its deep-seated sorrows, this is a hopeful book, a series of striking vignettes illuminating the humanity of these fully realized characters.
San Francisco Chronicle
Part of the novel's pathos lies in its ability to offer its characters a level of perceptive acuity and sympathetic attention they cannot offer one another ... The book's brilliance lies in moments like this one, these shards of devastating insight. Cohen's empathy is sure-footed and seemingly boundless; her writing gifts its characters with glints of ordinary human radiance. It is the possibility of this glinting that ultimately becomes Cohen's most powerful gift to us, her readers, as well.
From the Publisher
"An engrossing and revealing look at family . . . Leah Hager Cohen writes about difficult subjects with unfailing compassion and insight." ---Tom Perrotta, author of Little Children
A mother faces the heartbreaking loss of an infant son, which inevitably changes the family dynamics.
Ricky Ryrie and her husband John react to the death of their child in different ways. First, Ricky knows that the child was prenatally diagnosed with a serious brain defect and probably would not live long, but she keeps this diagnosis from her husband, who fully expects the birth of a healthy son. (Ricky has not considered an abortion at least in part because of her hope of a misdiagnosis.) John is perhaps more stunned by Ricky's keeping this a secret than by the medical complication of his son. But John has also had a secret past, for before he met Ricky he fathered a child, Jess, in a youthful fling. Ten years before the birth of the doomed child, his daughter Jess has gone on a camping trip with her father, Ricky, and the two younger Ryrie children, Paul and Biscuit. Shortly after the birth and death of the Ryries' baby, Jess, now 23 and pregnant, shows up again on their doorstep. Jess is unconventional and free-spirited, and Paul, now an awkward adolescent, is both tongue-tied and half in love with her. Biscuit knows that there's sadness in the household and tries to act out her grief in various ways, including spreading ashes in a river. The death of the child also brings back unsavory events from Ricky's life—for example, a brief affair from three months before her marriage to John.
With gorgeous prose, Cohen skillfully takes us from past to present and back again as she explores the ramifications of family loss, grief and longing.