The Rules of Inheritance: A Memoir

Claire Bidwell Smith, Author
Claire Bidwell Smith. Penguin/Hudson Street, $25.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-59463-088-0
Reviewed on: 10/10/2011
Release date: 02/02/2012
Paperback - 298 pages - 978-0-452-29887-3
Open Ebook - 304 pages - 978-1-101-55645-0
Open Ebook - 304 pages - 978-1-101-55986-4
Hardcover - 298 pages - 978-1-4722-1429-4
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-1-4722-1431-7
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In this deeply reflective, anguished memoir, L.A. journalist and psychotherapist Smith revisits the staggered death of her two parents from cancer as steps in the process of grieving. Using epigraphs from the seminal work on death and dying from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in naming her sections (e.g., “Denial,” “Bargaining”), Smith moves back and forth in time to explore the intensity of losing her parents, from her mother’s death after a long bout with colon cancer in 1996, just a few weeks into Smith’s freshman year at Howland College, in Vermont, to the death of her father in hospice in 2003, when she was 25. The author fashions her detailed story with an unflinching directness that is both riveting and monotonous, her paragraphs separated by a space as if to allow one to breathe between them. At age 18, she was barely away from the “drama” of her Atlanta home life, where her mother had been in treatment intermittently over four years while her much older father had tried to keep the family together, when painful news of her mother’s death struck: Smith hadn’t made it home that night; she had stayed over with a boy. The guilt and anger propelled her to quit Howland, move to New York, then L.A. with the boyfriend, Colin, recognizing after six years that she wasn’t in love. Smith’s prose possesses a blistering power, rendering this youthful memoir an affecting journey into loss. (Feb.)
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