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The Grief of Others

3.34  ·  Rating details ·  2,603 ratings  ·  418 reviews

Is keeping a secret from a spouse always an act of infidelity? And what cost does such a secret exact on a family?

The Ryries have suffered a loss: the death of a baby just fifty-seven hours after his birth. Without words to express their grief, the parents, John and Ricky, try to return to their previous lives. Struggling to regain a semblance of normalcy for themselv

Hardcover, 384 pages
Published September 15th 2011 by Riverhead Books (first published 2011)
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Sep 25, 2011 rated it liked it
The Grief of Others reminds me of an elegant package, with layers and layers of exquisite paper. Yet when everything is opened, what remains is a mystery box, something that entices and at the same time, disappoints.

The writing is, indeed, beautiful. The story opens with Ricky Ryrie in a hospital bed, holding her newborn son who is fated to die within the next few hours. “The whorls of his ears were as marvelously convoluted as any Echer drawing, the symmetry precise, the lobs little as teardrop
Dec 16, 2011 rated it liked it
For the first 100 pages I thought the writing was beautiful, but by the last 100 it started to feel like it was breaking under the weight of its own self-importance. The language could be beautiful, but it never took the characters anywhere. Characters that intrigued me in the beginning were boring me by the end. The author kept saying that John and Ricky were madly in love at one point, but there was never tangible evidence of it. If there had been, I might have been more deeply invested in the ...more
Dec 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Yet another book that I picked up on impulse at the library - and I'm so glad I did. I've discovered another superb writer in Leah Hager Cohen
It's a story of grief - over the loss of a child, the chill in a marriage, and how the surviving children are affected. Ms. Cohen writes so gently and, at the same time, is strong and even cold-blooded in her dissection of the characters.

We meet the mother in the maternity ward as she holds her newborn son who is doomed to live only a few days. Born anen
Gayla Bassham
The problem with having a near-brilliant first five pages is that the rest of the book might not live up to it. The first five pages of this book are devastating--it really is the fastest a book has ever made me cry--and beautiful and real. But much of the rest of the book doesn't live up to it. I loved Ricky, but we don't spend much time with her; the author chooses instead to give us pages and pages with her husband John, her children Paul and Biscuit (the cutesy nickname makes me wince, but t ...more
Dec 04, 2011 rated it it was ok
I liked this well enough up to the last five pages. Instead of ending the story where it was, which would have worked, Leah Hager Cohen steps in with an omniscient voice to say she has intended the ambiguities and lack of resolution she now points out, which strikes me as patronizing, parting the curtain so we can understand the mind of the author. I thought the opposite, that the story is a little too pat, perhaps, the assurance of depth notwithstanding.

The voice of 10-year-old Biscuit is wron
switterbug (Betsey)
Sep 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
What is grief? It has no physical properties, but it fills a room, a life, many lives, and creates pain. It's bigger than a boulder, but is amorphous. You can't domesticate or quarantine grief, but it can isolate, alienate, afflict. The sun rises and sets, our shadows shorten and lengthen, but grief reaches into darkness and obscures the light. Its stride is long and its span is spacious, but it has no measure. Grief is timeless, but time heals, according to the maxim.

This novel is about a famil
Feb 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is one of my favourite types of novel: a contemporary story, told from multiple perspectives, with compleling complex characters. I always thought that this type of book was called a novel of manners, but, when I looked up the definition, maybe not. In any case this is a fine example of such a novel, whatever its genre might be called.
It starts out with a heart-breaking description of the short life (57 hours) of Simon Ryrie, who is born without a brain stem. So you think maybe the hard par
T. Greenwood
Sep 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
I picked this book up, honestly, because the description of it made it sound like a medley of my own work...including a character who makes dioramas? Wow! Kindred author spirits :) And now, I am so pleased I did. This novel is a painfully acute portrait of a family in crisis. The writing is terrific. And the end, while heart-breaking, is exactly what it needs to be. My only complaint was that I found the character of Ricky difficult to like...but in one brief scene, she redeems herself painfully ...more
Wendy Armstrong
Mar 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
Couldn't get into it. There's a protracted, detailed description of a kid called Biscuit riding her bike somewhere or meandering around instead of going to school (or something) and I lost patience and gave up on the book. Sorry.
Apr 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
I came to The Grief of Others with mixed feelings. With a title like this, I was afraid I might be letting myself in for a deeply depressing experience. However, though this book was imbued with tragedy, the excellence of the writing meant I never regretted my decision to read it.

The story opens with the death of a baby, after just 57 hours of fragile life, and deals with the events, feelings, guilt and recriminations of his family in the time leading up to and following his death. Ricky, his mo
Feb 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooks
When he was born he was alive. That was one thing.
He was a
he, too, astonishingly--not that anyone expected him to be otherwise, but the notion of one so elemental, so small, carrying the complex mantle of gender seemed preposterous, the designation "male" the linguistic equivalent of a false mustache fixed above his infant lip.
His lips, how barely pink they were, the pink of the rim of the sky at winter dusk. And their curl--in the way that the upper lip rose to peaks and dipped down again, tw
Jan 30, 2012 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I'd give it 4 stars .

I loved this book.
I was blown away by Cohen's writing, every word seemed to pull me in. Her prose is beautiful.
And I found the characters to be intricate yet so down to earth and relatable. I was really impressed by how the story went on, it looked like they were writing it and living it at the moment.

I had no expectations about this book. I picked it up at the library and read the back cover, it seemed ok, the kind of plot I like, etcetera.
Instead, it was so much mor
Aug 25, 2016 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars, wouldn't mind reading a sequel...
Sarah Swedberg
Nov 12, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a very good book and worth reading. Maybe because it's about not being able to see the grief of others, I couldn't become very attached to any of the characters. They all seemed to exist on the surface, except for, perhaps Biscuit, as we see her experiencing grief more fully.

It ends with a Greek-chorus like musing, which seemed too much like my students' conclusions: I have to wrap this up and so here it is.
The Grief of Others explores the breakdown of communication that typically results during periods of loss, no matter what the cause of the loss. Everyone handles loss differently, and through the eyes of six different characters, Ms. Cohen showcases the various ways others are affected by a typically internalized feeling. Often heartbreaking, The Grief of Others comes across as a warning shot to others who may be experiencing similar emotional upheaval.

Unfortunately, what starts out as poignant
Jun 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
When I read a review of Leah Hager Cohen’s novel "The Grief of Others," I was curious how it would compare to Jonathan Franzen’s "Freedom." The books possess similar elements, a fraying family, suburbia, secrets. As readers of Booking Around are aware, I did not like "Freedom." I felt differently about The Grief of Others.

The Ryries live outside of New York City in a pleasant neighborhood and have two children. John also has an elder daughter from a relationship in college and the Ryries have ju
Oct 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
The Grief of Others is a heartbreaking story about the death of a newborn, and how such a loss affects the entire family. Ricky and John Ryrie's newborn son dies just days after birth, as a result of a serious birth defect. While this situation in itself would be painful enough to deal with, for the Ryries the situation is made worse by the fact, Ricky knew her risk was high for having an infant that might not survive, yet she chose to keep the info to herself, just in case the tests, indicating ...more
Aug 27, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, read-in-2012
I was so intrigued by the premise of this novel (and that cover - it's so compelling - even if it doesn't match the story at ALL in terms of the characters & their ages) that I couldn't wait to read it. It sounded like something right up my alley. I seem to be drawn to books that have some level of sadness and what not. Given its focus on grief, this one seemed to have all of the components that I like in a literary novel.

Let's start with the good - this is a beautifully written book. Leah H
Oct 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Loss presents itself in its many forms throughout this portrait of a family: the Ryries, who live in Nyack, NY, and seemingly live ordinary lives.

When their third child is born anencephalic, his death is a certainty. In fact, he lives for fifty-seven hours.

Then the family shifts into everyday life, with scarcely a blink, and their separate grief unfolds in symptomatic ways that reveal the testing of the bonds that connect them.

"The Grief of Others" is narrated in alternating perspectives, moving
Oct 16, 2011 rated it liked it

I started reading this earlier this week and I almost emailed Trisha to say I couldn’t handle this, right now. I’m glad that I pushed on, though because, aside from the obvious hard topics (hello, it’s called The GRIEF of Others), the story is a fabulous one.

The hardest part for me was the axis of the story, centered on the loss of a couple’s child only fifty-seven hours after birth, just struck so close to my current fear and personal situation. The death
Dec 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The writing was absolutely beautiful. There is much sadness in this book, but it is so exquisitely expressed. It's the story of a marriage, and the story of the effect of a baby's death on a family.

The book begins with a beautifully written passage on the birth and death of a baby. It flashes forward a year to "This Year", and then back to the time of the baby's short life, "Last Year" and back again to "This Year." We get a good picture of what has been happening with the family.

When Ricky Ryr
Oct 01, 2011 rated it it was ok
Written after reading first 300 pages:

Bottom line is that I'm enjoying this novel because I like the characters and want to know what happened to them. That’s why we enjoy any novel, right?

That said—and I need to emphasize this: I like the book, I'm enjoying the book, I’m glad I'm reading it—-I feel the need to quibble just a little. The book feels a bit longish at places. Just a bit. And also: Cohen sometimes makes her characters unrealistically self-aware. For example: “[Ricky had] been angry
Jul 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
The book skips around in time, and repeats scenes from the perspectives of different characters. This could be a provocative technique, but here it adds little to the overall experience. Late in the book, the narrative travels back eight years to show us, in real time, a family vacation that's been alluded to throughout the book. What should be a climactic and revelatory scene comes off flat and dull and my main reaction was annoyance.

I think Cohen realized that her core story lacked excitement
Jan 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011
This novel tells the story of the Ryrie family. After their infant son dies at 57 hours of age due to a birth defect, John and Ricky, and their children Paul and Biscuit, attempt to resume normal life and pretend nothing has happened while each is trying to deal with their own grief and sense of loss. John and Ricky struggle to maintain their marriage in the face of a painful secret, while Paul deals with bullying and Biscuit begins skipping school. Meanwhile, John's daughter from a long-ago rel ...more
Oct 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Challenge: Read the first chapter of this book without crying.

I am LOVING this book, which I discovered in Amazon's list of "Recommended for You." I think Cohen's writing is stunning, and her characters are interesting and nuanced. And the first chapter just killed me. It is about a mother and her newborn, who was born with a fatal brain defect and lived for just two days. Beautifully written.


Update: My early impressions of the book were accurate. This book is amazing -- exactly the kind of
Dec 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
The Ryries tries to go back to their ordinary life, after losing their baby at birth at just fifty seven hours. Pretending that their that family is normal, they make out what is best for their children. Paul who is the oldest child is going through peer pressure at school and he only has one friend that would make his school life bearable. Their youngest daughter Biscuit who is not all that innocent as she appears to be, multiple of times she has tried to drown away her sorrows. Rick and John`s ...more
Nov 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Hager Cohen is your classic 3.5 star writer. Her language is beautiful, her plots lagging. Her characters are well sketched, yet not that interesting. You feel as though you are reading a classic, except it doesn't actually contain that much.
I enjoyed this book well enough - it was an insightful and actually interesting look at a conflict where a wife finds out her unborn child will have a horrible and fatal defect and she decides not to tell her husband lest he insist she abort - I think thi
Kami Tilby
Sep 24, 2012 rated it it was ok
Do you remember folding a paper in thirds, drawing a head, then passing the paper onto another person who wasn't allowed to see what you drew, who then drew a body, and the last person, not seeing either drawing, added legs? The picture you end up with is oddly incongruous, the parts don't fit together, although each part is great by itself. That's how this novel felt. There was such lovely writing, with a voice clear and lyrical and then this other voice would intrude, with it's harsh notes and ...more
Jan 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
A skilled portrayal of a married couple and their kids following the death of their youngest child. For all her skill at delving deep into the motivation, frustrations and personality of each character,
I felt manipulated by the closing chapter. In it, the author for the first time addresses the reader with "What else do you want to know?" as if we were nothing but voyeurs along for the ride. She turns the mirror on us, and we're given a laundry list of mundane events among strangers, which is re
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Leah Hager Cohen has written four non-fiction books, including Train Go Sorry and Glass, Paper, Beans, and four novels, including House Lights and The Grief of Others.

She serves as the Jenks Chair in Contemporary American Letters at the College of the Holy Cross, and teaches in the Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lesley University. She is a frequent contributor to the New York Tim