When their third child is born anencephalic, his death is a certainty. In fact, he lives for fifty-seven hours.
Then the family shifts into everyday life, with scarcely a blink, and their separate grief unfolds in symptomatic ways that reveal the testing of the bonds that connect them.
The Grief of Others is narrated in alternating perspectives, moving back and forth between the past and present. In the beginning, we see the ten-year-old daughter Biscuit struggling with her own ritualistic way of dealing with what has happened.
Paul, the thirteen-year-old, is silently suffering while being brutally bullied by classmates.
And John and Ricky, the parents, move along parallel pathways, seldom connecting at all, until it is soon apparent that the events of loss were not the trigger for their disintegrating marriage, but the instrument that casts a spotlight upon what is wrong in their relationship. Secrets, betrayals, and lies are all gradually revealed as the reader turns the pages.
A wild card in this tragic family portrait is Jess, John’s daughter from a youthful relationship; her unexpected appearance could tip the fragile balance between them all. She is in her early twenties and has only spent time with the Ryries once before, on a vacation to the family cabin when she was in her early teens.
Will Jess’s needs somehow breathe life into the disintegrating family? Will her presence somehow bring the family together? Or will her individual set of lies and secrets cast the final stone on the funeral pyre that seemingly defines the family group?
This story was beautifully crafted and the characterizations were rich and multilayered, lending an authenticity to the drama as it played out, showing the reader that families are often comprised of individuals living parallel existences until something or someone helps shift the balance to bring about a kind of catharsis.
I recommend this story for anyone who wants to understand the nature of grief, and its effect on individuals and on the family. Four stars. I deducted a star for one missing ingredient: emotion.