The Obituary Writer

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The Obituary Writer by Porter Shreve is in a word: Quirky. Gordon Hatch is the son of a supposedly famous newspaper reporter who had bylines on tons of articles following the Kennedy assassination.  However, Charlie Hatch died when Gordon when just a young boy, so everything he knows about his father comes directly from his mother.  After hearing so many wonderful things, it’s only natural for a son to dream about picking up where his father left off.

A year out of college, Gordon begins his quest by writing obituaries for a St. Louis newspaper. He is certain his inherited journalistic instincts will kick in and lead him to a story that will make him famous just like his father. Until then, he figures he’ll get his feet wet writing about the recently deceased.

Things start to get interesting when a woman named Alicia calls him repeatedly to write a feature about her dead husband. The problem is her husband is no one special. He’s just an ordinary guy who lead an average life. Still, Gordon’s “instinct” buzzes and he decides to follow the story. As he digs into the details, not only does he find an intriguing story, but he also falls in love with Alicia. Up to this point, Gordon seems to be a well-adjusted and normal guy, but once he starts pursuing this woman all his insecurities and faults come to light. For lack of a better description, he’s a little nutty.

While already a compelling read, Shreve does a fantastic job of infusing history into the storyline.  The Revolutions of 1989 serve as a backdrop as a well as an interesting reflection of Gordon’s life.  As major stories unfold, he misses one opportunity after another to make a name for himself in journalism.  The events of 1989 literally redefined Eastern Europe and changed the course of the Cold War, yet Gordon, insecure in his abilities fails to follow the story and create headlines.  Just as Eastern Europe collapses, so does he.

While his state of mind can be a little unnerving, that which leads him to his downfall is somewhat sympathetic. Gordon is a man so driven by what he believes is his destiny he never stops to wonder if it’s what he really wants. In that respect, the obituary writer is just as dead as the people he writes about.

c.b. 2011

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11 thoughts on “The Obituary Writer

  1. Sounds fascinating – I’m going to check this out! I’ve been debating on blogging about books I’m reading, but the first I was planning turned out rather scathing. I don’t want to come off as a vindictive writer lashing out at chart-toppers. Maybe I’ll blog about my meditations.

    Let us know how the critique goes!

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    • If I don’t like a book, I just quietly add it to my bookshelf list and leave it at that. I decided to write about books as a means to help me construct a synopsis for my novel. It’s been a great learning experience so far. :-)

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  2. …so driven by what he believes is his destiny he never stops to wonder if it’s what he really wants. – oh my, let that never be said of us. Let us reach out for what we want, see it clearly with each passing moment and know that we did indeed live the life we want.
    walk in beauty.

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  3. The name of the book alone fascinates me as I love to read obituaries. I think it’s fascinating to be able to comprise a person’s life in a paragraph, kind of like a poem. You have such great book choices.

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    • The title is what made me pick it up! My favorite books are those that fly just under the radar and this one seemed so interesting I couldn’t leave it behind.

      It is amazing how obits can condense someone’s life into such a tiny space. I suppose that’s a good reminder to make sure we fill our lives with as much good as possible. :-)

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