Gail Godwin is one of my favorite authors. I think Father Melancholy’s Daughter was her first book that I read, and I was hooked from there. I’d probably enjoy reading a grocery list she wrote — she’s just that good. She develops characters really well, creates a mood wonderfully, and is a great storyteller. A quick look at her site shows me she will turn 80 in June. And, she has a new book out. You have to be impressed by a work ethic like that!
Her latest, Grief Cottage, features more of the great characters I’ve come to expect from Godwin. The main character is Marcus, an amazingly-precocious 11-year-old.
“Not everybody gets to grow up. First you have to survive your childhood, and then begins the hard work of growing into it.”
Marcus has never known who his dad is. It’s just him and his mom, who has told him she’ll reveal dad’s identity at some time when Marcus is old enough to make sense of things. But, Mom is killed in a car accident and Marcus ends up briefly in a foster family before finally landing with his quirky artist great-aunt Charlotte.
“For a large part of my life I have lived alone … and it has suited me very well,” Charlotte tells Marcus. He takes this to heart and immediately feels obligated to earn his keep, lest he be sent away. And indeed, as Marcus cooks, cleans, and helps out elderly neighbors along the beach where he and Aunt Charlotte live, I found myself wishing more than once that I had my own Marcus around. What a great kid!
The book’s title comes from a dilapidated cottage along the beach, where a mom, dad, and their young son had been killed during a hurricane decades ago. Marcus becomes intrigued by this family, particularly the boy, and visits “grief cottage” almost every day on bike rides. He hopes (and sometimes succeeds) in finding the boy’s ghost/presence.
Grief Cottage Quotes
Quotes or bits from the book that I liked:
- “Funny how the same person can be an entirely different entity to various people.”
- “How is it that some people can make us feel worthless even when we know we’re seeing ourselves through their eyes? Certain humans are poison.”
- “Marcus feels the pain of others,” said Aunt Charlotte, “even when they’re dead and gone.”
- “You can’t do anything about it because you’re a child and you have no way to compare your life to other people’s lives. Your foremost need is to stay safe within the only life you know.”
- “After all the human noise and conflicts have stopped, the absent person has more room in your heart to spread out and be herself. My mother’s been gone ten years and I know her much better now than when we saw each other every day.”
- “We know so very little about the people we are closest to. We know so little about ourselves.”
- “People have so many ways of shooting themselves in the foot to avoid facing something.”
- And finally, on a lighter note: “You could dislike someone and still admire their hairstyle.” 🙂
So that’s a taste of Gail Godwin and her writing. She makes such keen observations! Now, after all this praise, I don’t think this is one of her best books. The ending was a bit confusing to me and she threw in a few PC elements that further soured me on it. However, it’s probably worth reading just for a taste of the author’s writing. Better yet, read something else she’s written.
Have you read anything by Gail Godwin? What’s your favorite?