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Bookmarks Issue: 
56-Jan-Feb-2012
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A-GriefOfOthersLeah Hager Cohen is the author of several works of fiction and nonfiction, including House Lights: A Novel (2007) and Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World (1994). She is also a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.

The Story: A year after the death of baby Simon, the Ryrie family is still reeling from the loss. Ten-year-old Biscuit skips school and performs elaborate funeral rites for her lost brother. Thirteen-year-old Paul becomes the victim of merciless bullies. Their father, John, wonders if his marriage is worth saving after discovering a devastating secret. And Ricky, the children's mother, imagines driving off the Tappan Zee Bridge to put an end to her misery. But when John's grown daughter from a previous relationship shows up pregnant and unwed, her unplanned arrival may be just what the Ryries need to become a family again.
Riverhead. 384 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9781594488054

Globe and Mail (Canada) 4 of 5 Stars
"The Grief of Others is a complex and resonant novel, a moving exploration of the ways in which grief--perhaps especially the grief of others, which, like a distant country, is a place we know exists but can never inhabit--can twist and maim us, turning us into different, other people." Steven Hayward

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"With graceful jumps into the past that illuminate the present, moving from one unerringly rendered point of view to another, Cohen weaves a complex pattern of light and dark, happiness and grief, in a 21st-century version of the family chronicle. ... For all its deep-seated sorrows, this is a hopeful book, a series of striking vignettes illuminating the humanity of these fully realized characters." Susann Cokal

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Cohen's novel is a fast and graceful read, though its grace belies the difficulty of its material as well as the complexity of its attention--the intricacy of its psychological portraits and structural weave of its perspectives. ... Cohen's empathy is sure-footed and seemingly boundless; her writing gifts its characters with glints of ordinary human radiance." Leslie Jamison

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[I]n shifting the perspective from one character to another, Cohen lets her own voice intrude, breaking the spell she's cast. But those are quibbles about a novel that's otherwise graceful, satisfying, and closely observed." Laura Collins-Hughes

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"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." Sarah Pekkanen

Critical Summary

The New York Times Book Review describes Cohen as "one of our foremost chroniclers of the mundane complexities, nuanced tragedies and unexpected tendernesses of human connection," but the novel isn't quite as gloomy as it sounds. Despite the enormity of the family's loss, The Grief of Others is a story about hope and new beginnings. Although the Boston Globe found the multiple narratives jarring at times and others found some subplots too neatly tied up, most enjoyed the varying perspectives and flashbacks. Overall, Cohen's latest is an insightful, sympathetic look into modern family life and the ways that tragedy can lead one down unexpected paths.