The Grief of Others

The Grief of Others

3.1 13
by Leah Hager Cohen
     
 

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Is keeping a secret from a spouse always an act of infidelity? And what cost does such a secret exact on a family?

The Ryries have suffered a loss: the death of a baby just fifty-seven hours after his birth. Without words to express their grief, the parents, John and Ricky, try to return to their previous lives. Struggling to regain a semblance of

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Overview

Is keeping a secret from a spouse always an act of infidelity? And what cost does such a secret exact on a family?

The Ryries have suffered a loss: the death of a baby just fifty-seven hours after his birth. Without words to express their grief, the parents, John and Ricky, try to return to their previous lives. Struggling to regain a semblance of normalcy for themselves and for their two older children, they find themselves pretending not only that little has changed, but that their marriage, their family, have always been intact. Yet in the aftermath of the baby's death, long-suppressed uncertainties about their relationship come roiling to the surface. A dreadful secret emerges with reverberations that reach far into their past and threaten their future.

The couple's children, ten-year-old Biscuit and thirteen-year-old Paul, responding to the unnamed tensions around them, begin to act out in exquisitely- perhaps courageously-idiosyncratic ways. But as the four family members scatter into private, isolating grief, an unexpected visitor arrives, and they all find themselves growing more alert to the sadness and burdens of others-to the grief that is part of every human life but that also carries within it the power to draw us together.

Moving, psychologically acute, and gorgeously written, The Grief of Others asks how we balance personal autonomy with the intimacy of relationships, how we balance private decisions with the obligations of belonging to a family, and how we take measure of our own sorrows in a world rife with suffering. This novel shows how one family, by finally allowing itself to experience the shared quality of grief, is able to rekindle tenderness and hope.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.)
BookPage
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.
Kirkus Reviews

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.

Sarah Pekkanen
…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
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

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781594488054
Publisher:
Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
09/15/2011
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
8.58(w) x 5.74(h) x 1.25(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Robb Forman Dew
At once compact and sweeping. Cohen never strikes a false note in relating the complicated emotions of her characters. She has created a world both universal and particular. She illuminates all the ways it is glorious to be burdened with full-fledged humanity in the vast universe. (Robb Forman Dew, author of The Evidence Against Her)
Suzanne Berne
A wise and compassionate novel that looks frankly at the ways members of a family can wound and betray each other, even when trying to do just the opposite. Readers will be tempted to vilify Ricky, but she's much too complex for that. Despite the lies, subterfuges, and silences these characters inflict on one another, there are no villains here, just a family trying to carry on. (Suzanne Berne, author of The Ghost at the Table)
Tom Perrotta
The Grief of Others is an engrossing and revealing look at a family sinking beneath the weight of a terrible secret. Leah Hager Cohen writes about difficult subjects with unfailing compassion and insight. (Tom Perrotta, New York Times-bestselling author of Little Children)
Lily King
The Grief of Others is a gorgeous, absorbing, intricately told tale of one family on the brink of collapse, as well as an intimate exploration of art and its place in our lives. Leah Hager Cohen expertly juggles six characters and all their needs, yearning, wounds, and secrets with tremendous skill and—even more important—deep and tender compassion. She is a masterlyl writer on every level. (Lily King, author of Father of the Rain)
Andrew Solomon
"This is an eloquent book about the beauty, the sadness, and the aloneness that inhere in love."--(Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon)
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
Susanna Daniel
The Grief of Others is delicate, haunting, and lovely, and very difficult to leave on the shelf. (Susanna Daniel, author of Stiltsville)
Dani Shapiro
How does a family transcend its own pain? How do the secrets we keep shape our lives and the lives of those we love? In this gracefully written, elegantly structured novel, Leah Hager Cohen has created an indelible cast of characters whose story is at once wrenching and redemptive. This is a beautiful book. (Dani Shapiro, author of Family History)
Julia Glass
Leah Hager Cohen's new novel is a perceptive, absorbing drama about the complex bonds of the modern American family and the treacherous paradox of the way we live now. Somehow, the more open and flexible we try to become as spouses and parents, the more emotional risks we take—and the more secrets we keep. I love how deeply Cohen delves into the hearts of all her characters, bringing them fully alive, from their most heroic strivings to their darkest flaws. (Julia Glass, author of The Widower’s Tale)

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