I finally hit on two novels that really helped me in my research about contemporary fictional widows. Good Grief by Lolly Winston and Einstein & Emily by Linda Francis Lee. It is worth mentioning that while I’m reading these books I’m constantly comparing the stories and struggles to that of my own character. To me, it’s interesting to see that with this subject what choices other author’s make for their fictional worlds.
First off, I will admit that Good Grief took A LOT for me to get into (and I almost put it down once or twice), but when I finally did, the story and characters paid off (mostly). Now, while I do understand that losing a husband (even fictionally) is an emotional experience, it was quite difficult to warm up to Sophie, as her reaction to death was difficult to relate to. The book had other issues: the overwhelming and crippling depression of the main character (Where are her friends? Why does it take her family so long to show up and help? What’s up with the mother-in-law?), how the title sounds a bit too Charlie Brown, the super blah cover, the relatively easy clean up of Sophie’s life at the end of the novel… However, there was some good stuff going. There were some beautiful details and little moments of grief and sadness. I thought the use of first person was used especially well (something I am also trying to achieve). The supporting cast was very well developed. In a 10 point system, I would offer a 6.
What is especially interesting is the conversation / reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads. Many seem to be upset with the way (spoilers, sort of) Sophie’s life moves quickly past the death of her husband. As someone actively working on a manuscript about a similar topic, I absolutely consider these opinions part of my research.
Would I read another book by Ms. Winston? I’m solidly in the maybe category.
Continuing on my ‘grief reads,’ I literally just finished Emily and Einstein, A Story of Second Chances. I liked this story much better than Good Grief. Ms. Lee did a wonderful job balancing character development, supernatural elements, fictional book excerpts and grief. More than anything, I was struck with just how well these creative components were balanced. Also, this is the first book I’ve read in a long time where the setting (New York City, The Dakota) added a spectacular additional layer. Emily’s husband is far from perfect and her struggle back to normalcy is one that feels very natural.
Interestingly, Good Grief has been optioned (for film adaptation!) and I see Emily and Einstein as the far superior story (especially for screen).
After finishing this book, I would absolutely recommend it to others and look forward to reading future novels by Ms. Lee.
Finally, I tried and failed miserably to get into The Guestbook by Holly Martin, which is VERY well reviewed on Amazon. It is super rare that I won’t give a book at least 20%. In this instance, I immediately hated the format (should have done the sample pages!) and scanned through the rest of the book to see if things improved – it did not. I’m still scratching my head as to why it is highly recommended. It is rare for me to have such a fundamental disconnect with an audience…