Thursday, April 6, 2017

Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin

Character's inner ruins lay concealed, their grief diverted by obsessions and addictions, in Gail Godwin's novel Grief Cottage.

After the death of his single mother, eleven-year-old Marcus' only living family member, his Aunt Charlotte, becomes his guardian. While his depressed aunt spends her days in her art studio, painting and sipping bottles of red wine, Marcus uses his honed homemaking skills to keep the beach front cottage spic and span, making himself useful, as he did for his working mom. Marcus is also an expert caretaker, responsible and useful; his own needs are shunt aside, his own grief and doubt internalized.

The rest of his day Marcus walks the South Carolina beach to visit the deserted house locals call Grief Cottage. Marcus is obsessed to know more about the tragedy that took place there. A family vacationing at the cottage disappeared in the 1954 hurricane, the parents searching for their missing son. How could no one have recorded the family's name? Marcus visits the empty shell of a house daily, 'courting' the ghost of the boy who appears to him.

"Marcus feels the pain of others," said Aunt Charlotte, "even when they're dead and gone."

Charlotte's cottage is filled with grief. Charlotte tries to escape the memory of her 'devil' father who at age five began to 'poison' her. It is 'the good old family horror story', Greek or Shakespearian in nature. Marcus is burdened by his lonely childhood, shamed when his one friend discovered he shared a bed with his mother. In a rage, Marcus beat the boy up. He underwent counseling and then his mother left her job and they moved-- to worse conditions--then his mother was killed in a car accident.

In the galley reader's note, Godwin writes that she was inspired by stories of ghosts whose arrival coincides with a mental crisis, tales grounded in 'daily life,' but which  'leaves a window for the possibility of a reality we haven't discovered yet."

"People see what they want to see. Or imagine they saw. "

For a lonely eleven-year-old child in a new place, deep in grief, imagining a ghostly friend is not a far stretch. I had Homer the Ghost to keep me company when we moved the year I turned eleven. I knew he was imaginary. Marcus has to work to keep his 'realities' separate, the duties he owed to his aunt and to the ghost boy, to keep his sanity. It makes him feel even more isolated, for who would understand?

I was compelled by this story to read far into the night. Even the supporting characters are sympathetic, full and real. There is a climatic revelation, and life goes on as it had, Marcus and his aunt supporting each other. And at the very end, a moment of grace returns Marcus something he had lost and gives him something he had long searched for.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Grief Cottage
Gail Godwin
Bloomsbury
Publication Date June 6, 2017
$27 hardcover
ISBN: 9781632867049