The Obituary Writer
Claire, Peter and Kathy are a typical family in 1960s America, obsessed with burgeoning success, the incoming President, John F. Kennedy, and his stylish wife, Jackie. They spend their days taking care of the home, meeting for coffee and charity causes, and vying with each other in being the most fashionable dresser and homemaker. Their President-to-be urges Americans to be free and do something for the country. Claire catches the spirit of the new atmosphere by having a brief affair. Afterward, she finds her husband extremely irritating and insensitive.
Claire’s role in this story leaves the reader asking questions about desires and consequences and contemplating possible answers. Vivien Lowe, on the other hand, is living in the early 1900s and is mourning the loss of a lover killed in the 1916 San Francisco earthquake; what no one knows is she still believes he’s alive. Her most notable quality is as an obituary writer, but not what one usually sees in the papers or on the news. Vivien has the gift of capturing the essence of the deceased person from listening to the narrative a family member or friend describes, usually epitomized in a quote from poetry, a movie, a novel or anywhere that is apt. She experiences this as a peaceful, special gift until her best friend suffers a devastating loss, an indescribable loss, one which sets Vivien off on a completely unexpected journey to find the truth and move forward from there.
The first half of the 20th century is exemplified by turbulent movement and dramatic change in Vivien and Claire’s lives. The Obituary Writer is fascinating, living cultural history captured in fiction.