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by Lolly Winston
Warner Books, 2004
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Dec 26th 2006

Good Griefp>

Good Grief is a "feel good" novel about a widow in her thirties putting her life together after her husband of a couple of years dies of cancer.  At the start of the novel, Sophie Stanton lives in San Jose, she is going to a grief group, she sees a therapist, she keeps going to work, and yet she just feels worse every day.  Eventually she has a crisis, and this leads her to move to Oregon and stay with a friend.  She gets a job as a waitress, starts dating, joins a new grief group, and eventually opens her own business.  So this is a hopeful tale of recovery and rebuilding.

Winston's writing is energetic and breezy.  Even when Sophie is having a breakdown, the event seems just a little odd and quite funny.  Early on in the novel, she goes to a plant nursery to shop for houseplants.  She knocks over some plants and falls over.  She tries to get up.  "But it is better down here on the floor with the brown-speckled tiles and thin layer of dirt."  She starts crawling away, when a salesman notices her.  "If I hurry, I'll be out of here in no time.  I scuttle faster, passing a dirty noodle of a rubber band, my coat hiking around my waist."  So no matter how bad it gets for Sophie, the reader is allowed to see the lighter side. 

Nevertheless, Winston's writing is still powerful.  She makes Sophie's pain and confusion from losing her husband quite vivid, and readers may with spouses may find themselves snuggling up a bit closer while reading Good Grief.  Her chapter titles play on the different stages of grief, and include not only denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance, but also Oreos and lust.  We see Sophie start to take on more responsibilities as she starts to come to terms with her new situation, and she decides to mentor a local teenager, Crystal, who lives with her neglectful and self-centered mother.  Crystal has more problems than Sophie -- she cuts herself, is socially isolated, and pushes people away from her.  So Sophie has real difficulty being able to help the troubled girl.  Yet she perseveres and eventually builds a relationship with Crystal, and this helps Sophie. 

One might worry that in taking a light tone in a novel that Winston does not treat mourning and dysfunction with appropriate seriousness.  However, that would be unfair, because Winston is actually very compassionate towards her characters.  Good Grief addresses the issue of coming through terrible losses in a positive way, and it could be helpful to people who are in mourning.  Even for those of us who are not, Winston gives us a touching story.

 

 

© 2006 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.