The Rules of Inheritance

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A 2012 Books for a Better Life nominee
A resonant memoir of the ways untimely good-byes echo through the years by a writer who has considered every nuance of grief.

At age fourteen, Claire Bidwell Smith-an only child- learned that both of her parents had cancer. The fear of becoming a family of one before she came of age compels Claire to make a series of fraught choices, set against the glittering backdrop of New York and Los Angeles - and the...

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The Rules of Inheritance: A Memoir

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Overview

A 2012 Books for a Better Life nominee
A resonant memoir of the ways untimely good-byes echo through the years by a writer who has considered every nuance of grief.

At age fourteen, Claire Bidwell Smith-an only child- learned that both of her parents had cancer. The fear of becoming a family of one before she came of age compels Claire to make a series of fraught choices, set against the glittering backdrop of New York and Los Angeles - and the pall of regret. When the inevitable happens, and Claire is alone in the world, she is inconsolable at the revelation that suddenly she is no one's special person. It is only when Claire eventually falls in love, marries, and becomes a mother that she emerges from the fog of grief.

Defying a conventional framework, this story is told using the five stages of grief as a window into Smith's experience. As in the very best memoirs, the author's powerful and exquisite writing renders personal events into universal experience.

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  • The Rules of Inheritance
    The Rules of Inheritance  

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

One early reader hailed Claire Bidwell's memoir about her responses to the cancer deaths of both her parents as "the most honest book I've read about how loss unmoors, challenges and changes you, written in prose so exquisite, it could be poetry. Dazzlingly brave and absolutely true." A gripping encounter with an unavoidable subject. A Discover Great New Writers Spring selection.

Edward Ash-Milby

Publishers Weekly
In this deeply reflective, anguished memoir, L.A. journalist and psychotherapist Smith revisits the staggered death of her two parents from cancer as steps in the process of grieving. Using epigraphs from the seminal work on death and dying from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in naming her sections (e.g., “Denial,” “Bargaining”), Smith moves back and forth in time to explore the intensity of losing her parents, from her mother’s death after a long bout with colon cancer in 1996, just a few weeks into Smith’s freshman year at Howland College, in Vermont, to the death of her father in hospice in 2003, when she was 25. The author fashions her detailed story with an unflinching directness that is both riveting and monotonous, her paragraphs separated by a space as if to allow one to breathe between them. At age 18, she was barely away from the “drama” of her Atlanta home life, where her mother had been in treatment intermittently over four years while her much older father had tried to keep the family together, when painful news of her mother’s death struck: Smith hadn’t made it home that night; she had stayed over with a boy. The guilt and anger propelled her to quit Howland, move to New York, then L.A. with the boyfriend, Colin, recognizing after six years that she wasn’t in love. Smith’s prose possesses a blistering power, rendering this youthful memoir an affecting journey into loss. (Feb.)
Kirkus Reviews
A young psychotherapist's nonlinear debut memoir describing myriad personal tragedies including the deaths of both parents. Now in her early 30s, Smith lost her mother to cancer during her first year at college, and her father seven years later. An only child, she spent years struggling to come to terms with their deaths while trying to soothe her permanent sense of loneliness. The narrative jumps around in time, intercutting chapters about her teenage years with scenes from her 20s, when she lived first in New York and later in Los Angeles. She also recounts other tragedies, including her abortion and subsequent sadness, a years-long terrifying romantic relationship, her growing dependency on alcohol, her best friend's death from leukemia, her stint working for a myopically selfish magazine editor and traveling on a train in front of which a stranger jumped and died. The material is dark, no question, and some of Smith's revelations are hackneyed ("Grief is like another country"). But her voice is compelling, and the choice to write only in the present tense, even for years long past, works to heighten the scenes' emotional immediacy. Many of the chapters are preceded by lines written by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whose studies on the stages of grief have clearly impacted Smith. Ultimately, her memoir bears a strong resemblance to great blog-writing: simultaneously self-indulgent and, at times, surprisingly affecting. Recommended for adults in their teens, 20s and 30s who are interested in stories of loss and the aftermath of a parent's death.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594630880
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/2/2012
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Claire Bidwell Smith is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor. She writes for The Huffington Post, Blackbook, Yoga Journal, Chicago Public Radio, and the award-winning blog clairebidwellsmith.com.

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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Claire Bidwell Smith
Loss and grief are an inescapable part of the human experience, yet so often people are tentative about discussing these topics. Though, for a woman as young as yourself, you’ve already experienced more loss than most, you’ve made a conscious choice not only to write about these events, but to serve others in their own healing. How did you come to this decision?
It wasn’t so much a decision as it was the only path towards healing. Bottling up my thoughts and feelings about loss would have only worked to keep me immersed in them even longer. When I began to share them, and to relate to others who were going through something similar, I felt the first tiny moments of peace. Serving others was something that only came later, after I was finally in a place to do so, but again this only widened the healing path for me. So many religions and spiritual belief systems encourage service as a path to enlightenment and I truly believe that it is one of the purest ways to grow out of dark places and to find peace.
Where do you think books fit in on the pathway through grief?
I think books are an extremely valuable tool in the grief journey. After my mother died all I wanted was to know that I wasn’t alone. I read every single memoir I could find that dealt with loss, and each one provided a tiny sliver of solace. Grief is a very isolating experience. There is the sense that the whole world is continuing on around you while you are left in this quiet, sad place. Understanding that there are others who feel similarly can be enormously helpful. I highly recommend reading everything from loss memoirs to books that help to demystify the grief process.
You’ve recorded the details of your life at many crucial junctures. In fact, the photograph on your book jacket is a self-portrait you shot just after your mother’s death. Can you describe the impulse to capture moments in time—in words or images—and how it fuels your creative process?
It’s true, I’m an archivist of my own life. I always have been. I’ve been keeping diaries and journals since I could write and I’ve kept other things too – letters and photographs and recordings. In the last couple of years of my father’s life I recorded hours and hours of him telling his life stories on a tiny microcassette recorder. For a long time I had a very real fear of losing everything around me. I fought to preserve as much as I could and all of these things I clung to – the photos and recordings and journals – all helped me to feel a little safer. I don’t have that fierce urge as much any more and so what I do attempt to preserve I try to do so in a creative way with more thoughtful photography or more serious writing. Either way, I think it will always be a part of who I am. I pity those who have sort through it all after I’m gone!
Cities—New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago—are a powerful force in your writing, and you’ve recently taken up residence in Los Angeles for a second time. What draws you to urban environments?
I think it’s partly that I was raised in a big city. I grew up in Atlanta and aside from my brief stint in Vermont for college, I’ve never considered living outside of a major metropolis. When I moved to New York I thought I would never leave. I still feel a pull to that city, as though it’s a lover who got away. New York quelled this ache inside of me that I’d carried around my whole life, an ache to be somewhere else. When I moved to Los Angeles in my mid-twenties I did so with trepidation, but after a year I fell in love with it too. For me big cities are a condundrum. In places like New York and Los Angeles I’ve felt both completely alone and also part of something so much bigger. I love the overlapping of cultures. I love the freneticsm and the magnetism of being around so many people. To this day a city can still fill me up and break my heart as easily as some people in my life have.
“I write furiously for her,” you say of your college writing instructor. How have your teachers shaped your work?
There are two distinct teachers in my life who had a profound effect on me. The first one was in high school. After an essay I wrote at the start of tenth grade she took me under her wing and began to expose me to books and writers I never would have found on my own at that age. Her fierce belief in me enabled me to explore myself as a writer in a really powerful way. I found another teacher at The New School who had a similar impact. Again, this teacher exposed me to other writers whose books completely upended what I thought I knew about the written word. She too believed strongly in me and for four years I wrote for her, and in the process really unearthed myself as a writer. The day I wrote to tell them both that I was going to publish a book we all cried. I can never thank them enough for everything they did to help me along this path.
Who have you discovered lately? Which writers are you reading?
I just read Sere Prince Halverson’s The Underside of Joy about both grief and motherhood, which I dearly loved. I’m also rediscovering Annie Ernaux’s vast collection of memoirs. She is one of the writers my college professor turned me onto and I think she is one of the most extraordinary keepers of memory in the world.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 20 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 11, 2012

    A brave, beautiful memoir that draws the reader in

    The morning this book was released I found myself reading the whole thing, unable to put it down. This book is quite simply one young woman's journey through the heartbreaking loss of both of her parents at an age when she was still unsure of who she was and who she would become. Claire's powerful and poetic words weave a story that draws the reader in. Several times I was overcome with emotion and had to pause as my eyes blurred with tears. In the end what struck me the most about this book was the powerful simplicity of pure human connection coupled with both the strength and fragility of the human spirit. Claire's tenacity as she works through the stages of grief is both brave and beautiful. This book is a truly amazing piece of art that has the ability to touch lives and inspire others to find their own path through grief to a place of healing.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 15, 2012

    riveting memoir full of raw truth and healing

    Claire's memoir is an amazing story of a young girl who's life is touched by cancer when she is a teenager through her early twenties, loosing both mother and father to the disease by the time she's 22.

    Through painful paths, relationships, living and rebelling this coming of age story tells the story of a woman who is coming into her life with the heavy weight of doing it alone. It will rock you to your core and in the end give you a sense of healing. I highly highly recommend this book!

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 29, 2011

    Stunningly Good!

    Despite my intention to let it wait, instead of too much turkey, I devoured an advance copy of Claire¿s book, in stolen moments over half of a family-filled holiday weekend. ¿Edgy¿. ¿Gritty¿. ¿Poignant¿. ¿Brave¿. ¿Remarkable¿. ¿Raw¿. ¿Searingly-honest¿. ¿Un-put-downable¿. These words are sure to be used over and over again in the rave reviews inevitably to come for this remarkable piece of writing. Those familiar with her blog may well assume ¿Ah, I read along as this whole thing was unfolding. I know the story. I know the ending.¿ But whether we happen to know Claire or not, we know the ending ¿ she tells us herself part way through the beginning. Unlike many other blog-to-book authors, Claire has managed to transform her story from as-it-happened to as-it-needed-to-be-written in a manner which clearly also transformed the author herself. We witnesses to the story as it unfolded, might not have realized that we were witnessing another metamorphosis entirely. The cliché ¿things happen for a reason¿ is ¿trite but true¿¿for a reason. Who would Claire have been had this story not been hers? We will never know, nor will she. But those who discover and tumble along through her riveting account of this amazing journey will be forever seared by the ¿¿realness¿ of the experience. This memoir simply will not wait. No one who loves good writing should wait to read it.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 13, 2012

    Put on your "Must Read List" for 2012!

    This was one of the extremely moving and honest books I have read in a long time. It is a must read for anyone who is looking to be inspired and find strength. There is no words to describe how moving it is to read about loss and love from such an honest and vulnerable author. I have known Claire for years and it she continues to amaze me with everything she writes. This book truly inspired me to be a better friend, daughter, sister, and mother and to appreciate everything I have.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2012

    Courageous


    An amazing writer with a courageous story.
    This would be a great read for bookclubs,anyone who is grieving, or college psychology courses.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2013

    Sad, heartbreaking sad, depressing

    If you want to read a sad, depressing book, this is for you. You will cry and cry. I am an adult woman, my mom died ten years ago. It was awful. But what this young woman went through broke my heart. I wish I never read it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2013

    I just happened to pick up this book by accident. I am so glad I

    I just happened to pick up this book by accident. I am so glad I did...What an amazing, truthful, and beautifully written book !

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2012

    Incredible

    For any woman who has lost her mother, this is a healing missive. Beautifully painful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2012

    Nicely written

    Very well written. Heart wrenching story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2012

    Claire Bidwell Smith’s stunning debut, The Rules of Inheri

    Claire Bidwell Smith’s stunning debut, The Rules of Inheritance, is a powerful and gripping memoir. When Claire is the tender age of fourteen, both of her parents are diagnosed with cancer within months of each other. As her mother succumbs to the disease while Claire is in college, her life comes crashing in around her.

    The story is told not in a linear fashion, but rather through the five stages of grief. The author, with tremendous honesty and bravery, examines each stage. As we travel with Claire on this journey, which is simultaneously heart wrenching and inspiring, the reader is forever changed.

    I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever experienced the loss of a loved one. The writing is brilliant and her story is gripping. The Rules of Inheritance wills stay with you long after you read the final, poignant page.

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  • Posted April 2, 2012

    The Rules of Inheritance is an honest, at times heart-breaking,


    The Rules of Inheritance is an honest, at times heart-breaking, and ultimately motivating memoir of a young woman’s loss and her journey to begin to put her life together. While it may be viewed as a passage through the stages of grief, I found that to be a mistaken assumption. To me it represented an amazing story of an eighteen year old adrift, who finally finds her place in life despite significant odds that she would fall victim to a much worse fate. Ultimately, she even writes a book about it all, proving to us that she is a survivor. Thoughtful, honest and revealing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2012

    Depressing and Sad

    Has i known this book was a memoir when i purchased on my e-reader I would have known better than to expect a happy or enlightening conclusion! The author takes on a miserable journey of the illness and subsequent deaths of her parents-we find this out very early on and have to endure the exteme sadness of her situation time and time again, The out of sequencing of the timeline makes it worse, like a macabre Groundhog Day, For me this only brought up the extreme sadness I experienced when my own parents died-With nothing to cheer for I just slogged through to the last two or three pages where the author is happily married with a new child, There is no where near the balance needed to make a reader endure such sadness page after page after page-You owe me another 200 pages where I get to see that in the end you are okay and how/why this occurs! The writer is an exellent one and maybe she needed to write this story for herself, Personally I think she has the talent to attract a large audience but this book did not demonstrate it at all-

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  • Posted February 23, 2012

    very repetitive

    This memoir was quite boring. The author could not stop grieving over the death of her parents,smokes heavily, becomes an alcoholic then finds happiness with a new man. I did not like the way she jumped around time- wise in this book. It started out strong but then became very difficult to finish....but I did.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted February 23, 2012

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    Posted February 2, 2012

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    Posted February 24, 2012

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    Posted April 20, 2012

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    Posted June 3, 2013

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    Posted February 7, 2012

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    Posted May 28, 2012

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