Obligatory Note ThingThis is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club. The opinions expressed are my own.


Non-obligatory Note, Part 2: If you know me at all, you know I read a lot about death. Sort of obsessively, one might (and has) observe. It's possible that my struggles with cancer and lupus have led me to bury my pain and fear of death in the tales of other, greater tragedies. But in these works, I find connection and reassurance. They make me a little bit braver.

Claire Bidwell Smith's The Rules of Inheritance is a gutting but beautiful memoir about the author's loss of her parents, at a young age. When I read a short synopsis before I agreed to review the book, I was immediately reminded of Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, a book I once examined as a literature student. While the situations each author faces are similar, these are two very different books, both sharply rendered in the retelling of unthinkable tragedy.

In The Rules of Inheritance, Bidwell Smith recounts the illness and death of her parents, first her mother at 18, and then her father at 25. The book is written in the present tense, even as she writes about the past. Her pain, drawn out in the current, is both thrilling and gut-wrenching. 

The narrative, much like the healing process itself, is not linear. Each section is headlined by one of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' 5 stages of grief. Rules of Inheritance jumps between these stages, so that in one section, Smith may be 21; in another, 28. 

Reading this felt like a shock to my system, in the best way. Starkly beautiful in its gritty, unflinching honesty, the narrative will easily draw you in. Her pain is intense and it is real, left for us to absorb. 

Unquestionably dark, she recounts her relationships, struggle with alcohol and wandering twenties. But ultimately Bidwell Smith builds toward a hopeful ending, as she reaches her early 30s and becomes a mother, wife, and grief therapist.

What Bidwell Smith achieves with this book is a work that will serve as a connection to between her grief and the grief of readers. But even those who haven't experienced tragedy will connect with the book, from her desperate need for love and security, to the risky behavior she indulges in as a twentysomething. (Someting I know nothing about!)

Such a big part of growing up is coming to terms with the past, with all its ugliness and beauty. Bidwell Smith manages to capture her past self as it was, as it happened. In doing so, she has written a riveting memoir about grief, and left us with the reminder that life can still exist, even when it seems that you have lost it all.

(Follow along with the BlogHer book discussion, here: http://www.blogher.com/bookclub/now-reading-rules-inheritance)

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