Connections between an unhappy wife in the Kennedy era and an independent obituarist in early-20th-century California are artfully if predictably spliced in the latest from Hood (The Red Thread, 2010, etc.).
Claire, mother of Kathy and wife to handsome, conventional Peter, could be a character on the set of Mad Men. As President John F. Kennedy is inaugurated, she is both preoccupied with the color of Jackie’s outfit and skeptical about her marriage, which is proving to be an empty shell. In a parallel narrative set on the West Coast in 1919, we meet Vivien Lowe, who, as an obituary writer, has learned to “speak the language of grief” and is in love with a ghost. Her married lover, David, disappeared in the 1906 earthquake, but 13 years later, Vivien is still waiting for his return. Hood’s engaging, detail-packed if static storylines dwell lengthily on the two women’s moods of loss and uncertainty. Claire, who realizes she doesn’t love Peter, found brief happiness with a lover, but Peter discovered the affair, and now, pregnant again, she feels trapped. A crisis involving Peter’s 80-year-old mother, Birdy, leads to the settlement of all the women’s fates.
Hood’s fluent storytelling and empathy will ensure popularity, but her heroines’ destinies are devoid of surprises.