Some widows face their loss with denial. Sophie Stanton's reaction is one of pure bafflement. "How can I be a widow?" Sophie asks at the opening of Lolly Winston's sweet debut novel, Good Grief. "I'm only thirty-six. I just got used to the idea of being married." Sophie's young widowhood forces her to do all kinds of crazy things--drive her car through her garage door, for inst...
Some widows face their loss with denial. Sophie Stanton's reaction is one of pure bafflement. "How can I be a widow?" Sophie asks at the opening of Lolly Winston's sweet debut novel, Good Grief. "I'm only thirty-six. I just got used to the idea of being married." Sophie's young widowhood forces her to do all kinds of crazy things--drive her car through her garage door, for instance. That's on one of the rare occasions when she bothers to get out of bed. The Christmas season especially terrifies her: "I must write a memo to the Minister of Happier Days requesting that the holidays be cancelled this year." But widowhood also forces her to do something very sane. After the death of her computer programmer husband, she reexamines her life as a public relations agent in money-obsessed Silicon Valley. Sophie decides to ease her grief, or at least her loneliness, by moving in with her best friend Ruth in Ashland, Oregon. But it's her difficult relationship with psycho teen punker Crystal, to whom she becomes a Big Sister, that mysteriously brings her at least a few steps out of her grief. Winston allows Sophie life after widowhood: The novel almost indiscernibly turns into a gentle romantic comedy and a quirky portrait of life in an artsy small town. At all stops on her journey from widow to survivor, Sophie is a lively, crabby, delightfully imperfect character.
"The grief is up already. It is an early riser, waiting with its gummy arms wrapped around my neck, its hot, sour breath in my ear." Sophie Stanton feels far too young to be a widow, but after just three years of marriage, her wonderful husband, Ethan, succumbs to cancer. With the world rolling on, unaware of her pain, Sophie does the only sensible thing: she locks herself in her house and lives on what she can buy at the convenience store in furtive midnight shopping sprees. Everything hurts—the telemarketers asking to speak to Ethan, mail with his name on it, his shirts, which still smell like him. At first Sophie is a "good" widow, gracious and melancholy, but after she drives her car through the garage door, something snaps; she starts showing up at work in her bathrobe and hiding under displays in stores. Her boss suggests she take a break, so she sells her house and moves to Ashland, Ore., to live with her best friend, Ruth, and start over. Grief comes along, too—but with a troubled, pyromaniac teen assigned to her by a volunteer agency, a charming actor dogging her and a new job prepping desserts at a local restaurant, Sophie is forced to explore the misery that has consumed her. Throughout this heartbreaking, gorgeous look at loss, Winston imbues her heroine and her narrative with the kind of grace, bitter humor and rapier-sharp realness that will dig deep into a reader's heart and refuse to let go. Sophie is wounded terribly, but she's also funny, fresh and utterly believable. There's nary a moment of triteness in this outstanding debut.
Sophie Stanton goes from newlywed to widow in just three short years of marriage, her competent and confident persona replaced by an Oreo-munching, robe-and-slipper-clad zombie. Overwhelmed by grief and despair, out of a job, home, and clothes that fit, Sophie leaves her high-pressure, memory-laden Silicon Valley lifestyle for a laid-back Oregon village. In her metamorphosis from bereft widow to beguiling woman, Sophie is aided by an unlikely ally: Crystal, a street-smart but emotionally damaged teenager she befriends as part of a "Big Sisters" program. If there are stages to the mourning process, Winston gets them all down perfectly, communicating Sophie's misery with a poignant empathy. Those who have experienced such loss will surely recognize themselves in some part of Sophie's transformative journey; those who haven't will hope to demonstrate as much grit, wit, and charm as Winston's lovable heroine. Tackling a difficult subject in a debut novel is a gutsy move, and Winston pulls it off with just the right blend of heartfelt humor and heartwarming humanity.