Thursday, February 23, 2012
The Rules of Inheritance: a book review
I'll admit, when I sat down with The Rules of Inheritance, a memoir of writer, grief therapist, and blogger Claire Bidwell Smith's experience with losing both of her parents had a young age, I had my doubts about how well Claire and I were going to get along over the course of the nearly 300-page memoir. In a book with a theme of excessive drinking, references to smoking at seemingly ever page turn, and oh so stereotypical "rebellious teen" shoplifting incidences, I wasn't sure Claire and I had anything in common.
Of course, Claire always was a little different from her peers. Her mother was 40 when she born; her father was 57. When Claire's fourteen years old, both of her parents are diagnosed with cancer within weeks of each other. Her mother dies during her first semester of college and her father passes when she is in her early 20s. The Rules of Inheritance is a fractured look at the events leading up to and proceeding the death of her parents -- bad boyfriends, the aforementioned excessive drinking, walking away from a big fancy magazine job, a European trip with her elderly father -- and how all those experiences came to shape her as a wife, mother, writer, and therapist today.
Although my experiences are far removed from Claire's, she has a knack for telling the truth and her capability to convey the cores of her feelings and experiences made her story feel meaningful and relevant to me. By the end, I found myself really caring about Claire; she had become a real, fully-formed person in my mind, not some hazy "real person character" stuck in the pages of a book. The fact that I can read her blog or follow her Twitter feed only reinforces that feeling.
The narrative is laid out in five sections, each section named for a stage in Kubler's famous stages of grief. It's been stated many times in recent years that humans don't move through the stages of grief in linear manner and so the book is not laid out in a linear manner. In the first chapter, she's a college freshmen; in the next, a high school freshmen; in the next, a 20 something with her first "real" job; and so on. As a reader, that lack of linearity is initially frustrating. We want a clear trajectory from point A and point B. But Claire knows only too well that life is dissonant and unexpected and I think her decision to challenge readers with a nonlinear layout is a good one. Linear or not, that story comes together as clear memoir of living with grief and pain while becoming the person you want to be.
Interested in hearing what others are saying about The Rules of Inheritance? You can join in the conversation over at the BlogHer Book Club.
Disclosure: I participated in this review for the BlogHer Book Club. I was compensated for my time and received a complimentary copy of the book, however all opinions expressed in the review are my own.