three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
11-July-Aug-2004
user_rating: 
0

A Novel

A-GoodGriefWhat’s a 36-year-old widow to do? When Sophie Stanton loses her young husband to cancer, she begins to engage in self-destructive behavior. Consumed by grief, she wolfs down family-sized packs of Oreos, drives her Honda into her garage wall, and wears bunny slippers to work. On the brink of losing it completely (her grief group offers nominal help), she decides to do something drastic: leave her job in Silicon Valley and move in with her best friend in Ashland, Oregon. But small town life throws her some unexpected surprises: an alienated teen, a lurid romance, and even a new career. Can Sophie finally manage her unmanageable life?
Warner. 352 pages. $18.

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"Now, though, there is a bright and terrifically funny writer whose debut novel has re-energized and elevated the squashy notion of chick fiction, transcending it with generous and welcome doses of wit, compassion and originality." Connie Ogle

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"The novel includes scenes of genuine humor, albeit the kind of pitch-black wit with which people who have experienced real pain are familiar. … Refreshingly, Winston has removed the sap factor that often makes these tales of lost love as gooey as Vermont maple syrup or as saccharine as an artificially sweetened Nicholas Sparks novel." Deirdre Donahue

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The first third of Good Grief, in which Sophie sinks deeper and deeper into her depression, is actually the funniest, the saddest and the most authentic part of the book. … Good Grief is an impressive debut." Ann Hood

Dallas Morning News 3 of 5 Stars
"The twists and turns between [Sophie and teenager Crystal] are somewhat predictable; Sophie is able to have an actual influence on the girl, though it is hard-won. … A satisfying read for those of us who have taken an Oreo or two of our own to bed in our time." Karen Stolz

NY Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Good Grief is a novel that would dearly like to be [Alice Sebold’s] The Lovely Bones. … It’s capably rendered and extremely reader-friendly, but Ms. Winston’s vision is too busy being ingratiating to make much of a mark." Janet Maslin

Oregonian 3 of 5 Stars
"Despite its occasional problems with tone and sometimes awkward interspersing of humor with more serious content, Good Grief is an auspicious debut. The questions now are: Will Winston allow herself to go deeper with her next book or continue to court the Bridget Jones crowd?" Michael McGregor

Critical Summary

Sophie Stanton, meet Bridget Jones. But, um, wasn’t bereavement supposed to make you thinner? With a light touch that blends great sorrow with bubbly humor, Winston’s debut novel explores the life of a lonely, self-deprecating widow on the brink of disaster. Winston paints authentic reactions to grief, particularly at the start of the novel. Toward the end, the plot (and the constant jokes) starts to falter a wee bit. And some little twists, like the relationship between Sophie and the teenage Crystal and the opening of Sophie’s bakery, feel cliched. But Sophie’s skewed view of the world gives the novel depth, and sharp observations about a difficult subject (dead people "never argue or chew with their mouth open") will keep readers turning the pages.