GOOD GRIEF by Lolly Winston

A friend at work lent me Good Grief by Lolly Winston.  It looks like classic chick lit, from the pastel-colored cover and the quotes on the back from Jennifer Weiner and Anne Rivers Siddons.

But I was pleasantly surprised by this book. In fact, I read it in about 5 days, which for me these days is fast, given how little time I have to read.  It’s about Sophie, a 36-year old widow living in San Jose, CA and the first year after her husband dies of Hodgkin’s.  After hitting rock bottom, she slowly gets her life back together and moves to Oregon to start over.  In some ways, the book is a little formulaic – with the help of some unexpected friends and her own pluck, Sophie manages to create a new life for herself and work through her grief. However, this book went beyond chick lit and that predictable formula.

Sophie is matter-of-fact and honest without feeling sorry for herself. Her depictions of grief are realistic and, at times, heartbreaking. (I cried several times while reading this book – beware of page 216 especially). The happy moments are usually tinged with melancholy, and the people in Sophie’s lives are ultimately flawed.  But the book is not maudlin or even depressing – instead, it is compelling and uplifting without being saccharine.

Other than one scene that is a bit over the top, and an ending that’s a shade too pat, this was a very good book and I really recommend it.

Has anyone else out there read Good Grief or Winston’s next book, Happiness Sold Separately? I picked up the latter at a used bookstore in Seattle last week and hope to read it soon.


  • Nancy West
    June 25, 2007 - 10:34 am | Permalink

    Hi Gayle and everyone,
    I was happy to see this entry on your blog. I have read both of Lolly Winston’s novels and am interested in discussing them. I agreed with you — “Good Grief” is a notch above classic chick lit. For one thing, I appreciated that the subject matter was rather original. In a genre where the predominant themes are marriage, divorce, infidelity, infertility and parenting, I realized I had never read a contemporary novel about a thirty-something widow; nor have I been closely acquainted with one personally. So that in itself is a mark in this book’s favor. Beyond that, although I wouldn’t rush to recommend it to a friend, I felt that it was a pretty good read with some interesting insights and original characters. (I did read one review, however, that said that the Big Brother/Big Sister program might have some issues with the implication that its screening procedures are so lax that it would have accepted a newly relocated, newly bereaved widow into its program. Fair point!)
    Someone who thought that “Good Grief” was a terrific, rather than pretty good, novel would probably also really like “Happiness Sold Separately.” Like the former novel, “Happiness” is narrated in a bright, honest tone and has a handful of well-illustrated and interesting characters. My complaint with this book was that after reading it, I simply didn’t think I’d learned anything new. It’s the story of a couple whose longstanding struggles with infertility puts a seemingly irreparable strain on their marriage. The novel begins with the wife’s discovery that her husband is having an affair with a fitness instructor, and the story is thence devoted to their attempts to resolve their domestic problems. Just not important, interesting or ultimately insightful enough for me to argue that this book is worth anyone’s reading time more than any other book. It all gets back to my reading motto: “Life’s too short to read mediocre books.” Having said that, I do want to say that the ending of “Happiness Sold Separately” deserves special mention for its originality — it introduces a final, hard-won moment of thought-provoking surprise. So if, like me, you are 2/3 through “Happiness” and wonder if it’s worth continuing when there is a pile of other books demanding your attention, the answer is yes, go on — read it for the ending.

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