THE OBITUARY WRITER weaves back and forth between the lives of two women--one a housewife in a loveless marriage in the 1960's and one an obituary writer who lost her lover in the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Both women struggle to find themselves and figure out their places in the world. Claire, who seeks to emulate Jackie O, has always considered herself a model wife and mother. Increasingly however, she is finding that her life is no fulfilling and that she isn't sure if she loves her husband. Claire's life is contrasted with that of Vivien. Vivien is an independent women in the early 1900's who is in love with an older married man. When he disappears during the earthquake of 1906, she must re-evaluate her life. Almost by chance, she falls into the job of obituary writer as she channels her grief into writing moving tributes of other people's lost loved ones. Hood moves back and forth between the two women and their difficult choices using a nice compare/contrast device. The stories eventually run together towards the end of the book in a way that is meant to be surprising but really isn't.
I thought Hood did a really great job with both characters. I thought Vivien was so interesting in that she wasn't your typical woman of the early 1900's. And Claire is a perfect example of the dissatisfaction that many housewives of her time felt. The contrast between the two women was really interesting. Vivien is such an independent spirit who refuses to compromise and Claire is such a lost soul. I enjoyed seeing how the two women dealt with the various challenges in their lives.
This book often reminded me of Cunningham's THE HOURS. But it was missing something for me. Maybe I just needed a little bit more. The end of the book where the two stories came together felt a bit contrived to me. The connection was so obvious as to be intrusive as I waited to see just how Hood would bring the stories together. Still, I think many all-female book clubs might find much to enjoy and discuss with this title.
BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with reservations. I expected a whole lot more from this book but it was a pleasant read with some really nice characters.