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The Age of Grief

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3.84  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,232 Ratings  ·  118 Reviews
The luminous novella and stories in The Age of Grief explore the vicissitudes of love, friendship, and marriage with all the compassion and insight that have come to be expected from Jane Smiley, the Pulitzer Prize—winning author of A Thousand Acres.

In “The Pleasure of Her Company,” a lonely, single woman befriends the married couple next door, hoping to learn the secret o
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Paperback, 224 pages
Published June 11th 2002 by Anchor (first published August 12th 1987)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Paul
Jul 22, 2011 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
I read the title novella earlier this year and to say I loved it would be an understatement, so I thought I'd check out the collection. It's an unfair criticism, perhaps, but the five preceding stories just don't really compare (or perhaps even hold up) to the novella. It feels like so much throat clearing. Really eloquent throat clearing, of course, but because I knew what was coming at the end, I could never fully immerse myself in the stories. A couple are pretty great, then conclude with a l ...more
Daniel
Dec 26, 2012 Daniel rated it liked it
CIRCA 2002

Publisher A: Hey, Jane Smiley wrote a great novella, let's get it out there.

Publisher B: But wait, we can't, like, put out a 90-page story as-is; we need to put more stuff in between the covers so we can slap a $14 price tag on the whole enchilada.

Publisher A: Let me dig up some short stories she put out, make an anthology.

Publisher B: That's the ticket.


THE PRESENT

Author: I have a great novella that I want people to read...

Author: ...I know, I'll put it out as an eBook, charge a couple
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Mindy
Feb 09, 2009 Mindy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This series of short stories (and the novella for which the collection is named) showed a level of mastery and sensitivity to the day-to-day, and to the disparity that lies between how things seem and how they are. Smiley's prose is suited to this kind of study; moreover, her perspective is so sensitive and interesting. I loved the novella. Life is messy, and we are so busy dealing with some details that it's easy to miss or mis-handle others. Highly, highly recommend this.
Will Walton
Aug 11, 2014 Will Walton rated it it was amazing
The first story was good; clean, incisive, unsparing, and unique. The second story was a perfect examination of human wants and needs. (Why do we need to fall in love? Is it simply because loving ourselves is so difficult, impossible even, at times? Is selfless love even POSSIBLE?) The third story was my favorite "story" in the collection; it knocked the wind out of me. And the fourth and fifth stories were really, really great.
But, hey, the show-stopper in this collection is the novella that g
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Alena
Dec 31, 2009 Alena rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are some stories that resonate with such innate truth that they stay with you - you recognize your own thoughts on the page and wonder at the writer who seems to intimately know you, even though you've never met. This is how I feel about Jane Smiley and The Age of Grief. This is how I feel about this passage:

"I am thirty-five years old, and it seems to me that I have reached the age of grief. Others arrive there sooner. Almost no one arrives much later. I don't think it is the years themse
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Amy
Nov 15, 2013 Amy rated it it was amazing
The word that comes to mind when I think about Jane Smiley's writing is 'deft'. I hadn't read anything by her for years, not since returning to her for The All True Travels...Lidie Newton, which I didn't warm to. But this book, this novella and a handful of stories, caught me and held me throughout. I found myself rereading whole pages after any interruption to ensure that no nuance escaped me, no phrase, both for beauty of composition and meaning.

A book about people navigating the everyday, the
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Eduardo
Jun 18, 2014 Eduardo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My evaluation is closer to 4.5. The very endings of two of the short stories (“Lily” and “The Age of Grief”) are, in my view, missed opportunities, as they are clearly anticlimactic and almost destroy altogether the tension the narrator cleverly builds up in each. In the first tale, it is the last sentence; in the other one, it is the last paragraph. In both cases they were superfluous, and unnecessary.
Deborah
Mar 04, 2008 Deborah rated it really liked it
Some of the stories I'm not a huge fan of. But the reason to buy this/read this is the novella at the end, the age of grief. Which later was turned into "The Secret Lives of Dentists" movie, which really didn't do it justice in my opinion. But I don't think it could, because the essence of this novella is the internal dialogue of the main character. (Why is spell check saying dialogue is wrong? dialog?) Anyways, this is one of those stories I always come back to... I wish I wouldn't, it leaves t ...more
astried
“I am thirty-five years old, and it seems to me that I have arrived at the age of grief. Others arrive there sooner. Almost no one arrives much later.... It is not only that we know that love ends, children are stolen, parents die feeling that their lives have been meaningless.... It is more that... after all that schooling, all that care... the cup must come around, cannot pass from you, and it is the same cup of pain that every mortal drinks from.
... I understand that later you come to an age
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Patty
Back in June, I read Lauren Winner's book, Still. In it she mentioned that she rereads the novella, "The Age of Grief" by Jane Smiley every year. I found this to be very interesting. I had only read A Thousand Acres by Smiley and I found that story very difficult. I had trouble imagining rereading anything every year. So I thought it was worth finding the novella and maybe figuring out the attraction.

I am glad that I did not turn to the novella, which is the last piece in this book and either sk
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Melanie
Jun 15, 2009 Melanie rated it really liked it
I just love Jane Smiley....She is such a gifted storyteller and writes with such nuance. You might not like all the characters, but you certainly feel them. This is a book full of short stories and a novella. Great read.
Nancy
Apr 19, 2012 Nancy rated it really liked it
Recommended to Nancy by: daughter, Heather
I really enjoyed reading this book. Some of the short stories were not exactly what I would normally read, but I found them all surprisingly refreshing, and interesting.
Pascale
Dec 02, 2015 Pascale rated it it was ok
This is the second book by Smiley I've read, and possibly the last. While it is less far-fetched than "Duplicate Keys", it is eminently forgettable. The first 2 stories, "The Pleasure of her Company" and "Lily" start promisingly enough as an exploration of the always tenuous relationship between a couple and a female friend whose own needs blind her to the cracks at the core of the marriage. However, neither story fulfills its potential. "Dynamite" tells, rather elliptically and implausibly, of ...more
Louisa
Aug 16, 2013 Louisa rated it it was amazing
I just finished this novella by Jane Smiley. Someone writing in a recent Poets & Writers article had recommended it as one of the best examples of writing he knew--something he teaches all the time. I was curious so I got it out of the library.

It is very understated and deceptively simple. But it is masterful piece of work--a long meditation on marriage, family, one's place in those.

The arc of the narrative seems rather long and drawn out, but I think it's necessary to give the reader a sens
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Steve
Jul 12, 2013 Steve rated it really liked it
I haven't read Smiley in forever - like since "Greenlanders" came out! But I heard such good things about the title novella, I wanted to give this a try. Plus there is the movie tie-in (released as "The Secret Life of Dentists" - makes the crabby patient role much bigger than in the story, played by Dennis Leary). A collection from 1977-1987, the short stories included are very Caveresque. They often seem to deal with people in a university setting or university town, struggling w/ the personal ...more
Blue
Aug 17, 2013 Blue rated it really liked it
I am on a short story kick lately, and Smiley fed my addiction perfectly. The collection has five shorts and the novella that gives the book its title. One thing that is immediately clear is Smiley is extremely apt in creating different voices. Some short story writers prefer third-person narration and thus tend to have the same narration voice throughout their stories (for example, Carver). Smiley writes (in this collection) mostly in first-person and with incredible agility, creates characters ...more
Shay Caroline
Dec 30, 2012 Shay Caroline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
This book consists of five short stories and a novella. First, let me state the obvious: that Jane Smiley, who won a Pulitzer for "A Thousand Acres" can really write. Her grasp of what really goes on at the heart of relationships, and within people in the course of their daily lives, is remarkable. These stories explore connections between friends, parents and children, and men and women. I will say that the stories all tend toward the down side. While there is genuine truth here, I think she sh ...more
Joel
Jul 05, 2013 Joel rated it really liked it
Sometimes I choose a book simply based on a desire to experience the power that writing can contain, when done at its' peak. When I want to self-consciously enjoy good writing I will often turn to anything by Marilynne Robinson, or for a short story Maclean's A River Runs Through It, last summer it was Harding's Tinkers, based on Robinson's own recommend of the book. Somewhere back I stumbled upon a recommend for this Jane Smiley book from Anne Lamott (though now I can't locate where I read it), ...more
Tim
Feb 27, 2012 Tim rated it really liked it
I read this (according to a notebook) in the Quarterly, Spring 1987 edition; I copied this passage out: "I am thirty-five years old, and it seems to me that I arrived at the age of grief. Others arrive there sooner. Almost no one arrives much later. I don't think it is years themselves, or the disintegration of the body. Most of our bodies are better taken care of and better-looking than ever. What is is, is what we know, now that in spite of ourselves we have stopped to think about it. It is no ...more
Panther
Marriage is the theme of this set of short stories, and they proceed from less to more intimate. The first stories are about disintegrating marriages and are told from the point of view of outsiders, single women who are obsessed with, or happen to be physically pressed up against these marriages. The last story, the title novella, is by far the best and by far the most intimate. I went back to this novella this evening in a sort of depression but the novella itself was so depressing that I mesh ...more
Carly
Nov 03, 2015 Carly rated it liked it
Just love Jane Smiley. Her characters feel so very real. And the settings always awe me (I would have never thought to have a story crescendo at the moment that a family of five contracts the flu) and put me directly in Smiley's intellectual line of fire. I've only read one of her novels, but I think she excels in every format, and I look forward to reading more of her work.

Favorite: "The Pleasure of Her Company"
Veronica
Nov 19, 2014 Veronica rated it liked it
When these stories are good (The Pleasure of Her Company, The Age of Grief, Long Distance) they are almost up to Alice Munro standards -- wonderfully perceptive, and full of telling detail. When they aren't (Jeffrey, Believe Me and Dynamite) they are -- well, like a creative writing teacher showing off. Still, the good ones outnumber the bad!
Stephanielharper
Sep 21, 2015 Stephanielharper rated it it was amazing
This novella and story collection and her incredible saga, The Greenlanders, are THE ONES that made me fall in love with Jane Smiley. I read everything of this author's that I could get my hands on for about 5 years, until I burned out a bit. Anyway, she is smart, bold, heart-wrenching, and addictive!
Julie
Oct 24, 2015 Julie rated it really liked it
Jane Smiley's short stories have been a pleasure to read, once again. The writing is straightforward, yet layered. Her characters are vivid and offer the reader an opportunity to hang in the room, and watch. And understand. The novella, The Age of Grief? A very satisfying read.
James
Such a beautiful, sad collection of portraits of the everyday interactions with those around us, and with the interaction between the picture we have of ourselves and who we really are. It reminds the reader that, yes, there are many sad things in life, but they're not the important things.
M Rothenbuhler
Mar 10, 2016 M Rothenbuhler rated it liked it
The author takes time to examine and get underneath what seem to be, usually, small or commonplace events and everyday sort of people.

Of course nobody is an everyday sort of person, once you get to know them a little bit. And the most normal appearing situation gets far more interesting upon examination.

There are less mundane situations, too (the seduction of a homosexual man by a straight woman to father a child, not a subject matter I want to explore, actually).

I don't like the occasional but
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Liz D
Sep 24, 2007 Liz D rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
To me thus far, it seems that Smiley is at her best when chronicling the the drama of the everyday, of the domestic, as in the story that opens this collection, "The Pleasure of Her Company." When she tries to add more extreme actions, as she does at the end of the next story, "Lily," they fall flat. The other story in the collection I wasn't entirely impressed with was the fourth, "Long Distance." It ends in an epiphanic moment, which I found a bit hackneyed. On the other hand, I very much enjo ...more
Meredith
Jul 20, 2014 Meredith rated it really liked it
Jane Smiley has unusual insight into the workings of the human heart. The title story/novella is an especially good example of this, but the whole volume is an excellent read.
Dragana
Jun 10, 2015 Dragana rated it really liked it
Forget the front-padded few stories, read for title novella, which is about 7 stars. Male narrator transparently written by woman, but doesn't soften devastation.
Josh
Aug 26, 2010 Josh rated it it was amazing
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Jane Smiley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Smiley grew up in Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, and graduated from John Burroughs School. She obtained a A.B. at Vassar College, then earned a M.F.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. While working towards her doctorate, she also spent a year studying in Iceland as a Fulbright Scholar
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“I am thirty-five years old, and it seems to me that I have arrived at the age of grief. Others arrive there sooner. Almost no one arrives much later. I don’t think it is years themselves, or the disintegration of the body. Most of our bodies are better taken care of and better-looking than ever. What it is, is what we know, now that in spite of ourselves we have stopped to think about it. It is not only that we know that love ends, children are stolen, parents die feeling that their lives have been meaningless. It is not only that, by this time, a lot of acquaintances and friends have died and all the others are getting ready to sooner or later. It is more that the barriers between the circumstances of oneself and of the rest of the world have broken down, after all—after all that schooling, all that care. Lord, if it be thy will, let this cup pass from me. But when you are thirty-three, or thirty-five, the cup must come around, cannot pass from you, and it is the same cup of pain that every mortal drinks from. Dana cried over Mrs. Hilton. My eyes filled during the nightly news. Obviously we were grieving for ourselves, but we were also thinking that if they were feeling what we were feeling, how could they stand it? We were grieving for them, too. I understand that later you come to an age of hope, or at least resignation. I suspect it takes a long time to get there.” 6 likes
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