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Tear Jerker / The Obituary Writer

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Being a novel that deals with the subject of death, The Obituary Writer has many sad moments.

  • The novel begins with the abduction and murder of Dougie Daniels, a boy living in the same neighborhood as Claire and her family. The Danielses disappear from local life, eventually moving away. And Claire feels a degree of guilt, due to having seen the white car used by the boy’s kidnapper and killer. While the bastard is eventually captured and arrested, the family is still presumably marked by their son’s death.
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  • It’s pretty depressing when Vivien remembers the many grief-stricken parents, who sought her out to compose obituaries for their children taken by the influenza epidemic.
  • Vivien is constantly reminded about David, her lover who disappeared during the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. She holds onto the belief that rather than dying, that he’s developed amnesia and wandered off, having forgotten about her. Vivien then seemingly gets a good lead when a news story reveals an amnesiac patient in a Denver hospital that greatly matches David’s description. Unfortunately for her, the amnesiac man isn’t David, but a John Doe who laments his inability to remember how he ended up like this. And going from there, she gets another lead when she’s consulted by a young woman who is married to an older man and employs Fu Jing, David’s Chinese housekeeper. But, unfortunately for her again, it’s actually David’s former business partner Duncan MacGregor. Who then reveals to her that David was tragically killed by an earthquake-weakened support beam, meaning her entire quest to find David was in vain.
    • On the note of the amnesiac patient, it turns out that he matches the identity of several women’s lost husbands, lovers, sons, family members, etc. Vivien meets with a woman who hopes that he’s her husband who managed to escape drowning. Sadly, the John Doe isn’t her husband. And then she verbally chews out Vivien and the other women for how they’ll feel relieved over her loss, because then it means John Doe will be their missing loved one.
    • It’s sad for the amnesiac patient, too. After Vivien discovers that he isn’t David, we never learn if he’s any of these grieving women’s lost loved one, or if he ever recovers and gets his old life back.
  • Before her trip to Denver, Vivien learns that Pamela, the daughter of her best friend Lotte, died from sickness. This leaves Lotte an Empty Shell who refuses to bathe or undress from the clothing she wore at Pamela’s death, so she can forever remember it. She requests Vivien to compose an obituary for Pamela and suffers a breakdown that leads her to trying to dig up her daughter’s grave. And before that, there are the moments where she’s shown to remain as long as she can next to Pamela’s body. And when one of her sons tries to console her, he’s forcefully ushered out.
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    • It’s a pretty depressing sequence for Vivien, too. Having a decent relationship with Pamela, and having been present for her birth, it strikes Vivien pretty hard. There’s a pretty poignant scene where she refuses to leave the truck Sebastian brought her to Lotte’s home in. As she explains it, not stepping outside and going into the house would mean that Pamela’s still alive.
    • Even sadder, Lotte commits suicide by drowning herself, unable to live without her daughter. It’s pretty depressing for Vivien to recall this, considering how the two grew up so close.
  • Peter’s strained relationship with Claire, after he finds out about her affair, is pretty depressing in itself. He still loves and wants to forgive her, but finds himself unable to. He also becomes more critical of her and makes some disparaging comments about her pregnancy. After the incident mentioned below, he outright tells Claire that he hopes the baby will die. And with the revelation also mentioned below, it makes that comment even sadder.
  • The sledding accident is arguably the most painful sequence in the novel. Stressed out and acting on an impulse, Claire takes a sled and walks away from Kathy, who begins crying out for her mother. Once she realizes her mistake, Claire fails to find Kathy and is already set into motion. She crashes hard into a tree, cracks her head, and is quickly hospitalized. She also learns, to her immense grief, that her unborn baby died in the process.
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    • It’s made even worse when she learns from Dot that Miles is unable to procreate due to mumps, meaning the baby was hers and Peter’s.
  • Peter’s mother Birdy suffers a Hollywood Heart Attack that leaves her bedridden. It’s particularly depressing in that, despite being an eighty year old woman, Birdy was quite healthy-looking and energetic. She comes to in the hospital, revealing herself as an older Vivien when she asks for David and expresses sadness over Pamela. And she passes away at the novel’s conclusion, after offering Claire a final conversation to give her some closure over her life.
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