One of my recent Shelf Awareness reviews. Enjoy!
At first glance, Leah Hager Cohen’s The Grief of Others looks like one contemporary literary novel among many. Short on action, long on characterization, the story’s major battles are fought in the minds of characters whose personal grief alienates them from one another. Among the many, however, this one stands out for the astonishing luminosity of its prose.
In The Grief of Others, Cohen traces the emotional journeys of six characters. Five are related, one becomes a family friend; all are strangers, unable at first to slip the bonds of grief and unite as a family. The story begins with the death of the Ryrie family’s third child, Simon, an anencephalic infant who leaves life a mere 57 hours after he entered it. The Ryries – parents Ricky and John and children Paul and Biscuit – mourn Simon’s loss but suffer silently detached from one another.
Enter John’s 23-year-old daughter, Jess, carrying a pregnancy of her own and appearing in the Ryries’ lives for the first time since she was fifteen and running away from home for reasons she cannot explain even to herself. Meanwhile, nine-year-old Biscuit deals with her own grief by taking a leaf from a library book, only to be knocked into the Hudson by an exuberant Newfoundland and fished out again by the dog’s owner, nineteen-year-old Gordie, who lives alone after the lingering death of his father. The characters each live in the same world as the others, but are not of it. Before they can share the grief of others, they must all overcome their own.