The Other Room by Kim Triedman is an unsettling look at how the loss of a child impacts not only a couple, but their extended families. Claudia and Josef’s daughter Lily died when she was only 1, suffocating in her parents’ bed. The couple, who live in suburban New York, had a strong marriage before Lily’s death, but during the intervening three years have spiraled away from each other. Josef longs to connect with Claudia, but is shut out by her physically and emotionally and has grown impatient with her inability to function. Claudia, meanwhile, has become obsessed with her therapist, increasingly relying on their weekly sessions both to restore her sense of well-being and to find emotional sustenance. Their marriage has become a shell, with little actual connection beyond the superficial other than sputtering fights that don’t resolve anything.
The Other Room is often painful to read. Triedman, a poet, writes in a detailed, almost lyrical style that delves deeply into the personal experience of grief. The narrative perspective shifts around throughout the book, from Claudia and Josef to Claudia’s twin sister, her father, and even her therapist. In addition, there are journal entries sprinkled throughout that give even more perspective to Claudia’s emotional state. To read The Other Room is to experience the numbing flood of Claudia and Josef’s loss, which makes for a difficult but intense and memorable read. I liked the additional perspectives, as they gave a good sense of how others try – often ineffectively – to offer support while dealing with their own thoughts and judgments, including impatience with how slowly others may heal. I also liked Triedman’s keen use of detail to convey the daily realities of her characters’ lives, as it made them more immediate and relatable.
The ending was interesting – after a catalysmic family Thanksgiving, the loose ends of the book wrap up. There is one twist at the very end that left me raising my eyebrows, but I won’t spoil it here. It just seemed unnecessary to me, and was also a bit ambiguous, which I never love.
In all, The Other Room is a well-written and emotional intense exploration of parenthood and marriage amidst unspeakable loss, as well as how the subversion or containment of grief can nevertheless have far-reaching implications on the lives of others in its wake.