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Good Grief    by Lolly Winston order for
Good Grief
by Lolly Winston
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2004 (2004)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

As might be guessed from the title, Lolly Winston's novel presents grief with a light touch, creating a strong contrast that only emphasizes her protagonist's underlying pain. Good Grief is witty, at times hilarious, and you'll alternate between laughter and tears, while turning its pages.

In San Jose, thirty-six-year-old Sophie Stanton has just lost her husband Ethan to Hodgkin's disease. Her doctor sent her to a grief group after she drove her Honda through the garage door. She's 'overmedicating with frozen waffles' and struggling with the demands of a job she doesn't believe in, pushing PR for a 'scrotal patch'. Her mother-in-law wants to pack up Ethan's possessions for Goodwill. I loved the depiction of Sophie sharing a martini with Ethan by drinking it out of his emptied urn, and chuckled at her experience of 'realtor lust'. A series of minor crises culminate in the scene pictured on the cover, when Sophie, overdosed on antidepressants, heads to an important business meeting in houserobe and slippers. That eliminates the job, and soon afterwards she sells her house and moves to Oregon, to be close to her best friend Ruth.

As her life slowly begins to pick itself up again, there are laugh-out-loud moments, such as when a deadbeat dad poses as a widower at her new grief group, to get a dinner date, and her Lucille Ball style waitressing disasters - Sophie actually compares herself to the comedienne, and it's a good comparison as they share an engaging insecurity. Eventually our widow has a new relationship (with its own ups and downs involving an application of a clever 'good-riddance list') and wins from her grief counselor a 'grief gold star. Good girl. Good grief.' Aside from Sophie's own feelings, the novel addresses other tough issues. Sophie finds 'solace in offering solace to others' - first, taking on a Big Sister role with a self-mutilating, difficult teenager, and eventually supporting her mother-in-law who develops Alzheimer's.

Good Grief resonated strongly with me, since I recently found how necessary humor is to cope with grief and dying. You'll be firmly on Sophie's side on page one, and wanting to adopt her into your own family by the end of a novel, which is a bit like Chocolat starring Lucille Ball, especially in its cupcake climax.

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