Anytime experiencing something new, we usually make up our minds quickly as to whether we like it, which is why society puts such importance on “first impressions.” When reading a new book it’s the same feeling for me and I can normally sense in the first few chapters what I’ll feel at the end. Yet, on occasion, a story will work its way slowly into my brain, silently peeling back layer after layer of curiosity until I cannot go to bed until the last page is turned. ‘Grief Cottage’ by Gail Godwin is one such book.
‘Grief Cottage’ follows a young boy, Marcus, who recently lost his mother in a car accident and is sent to live with his Aunt Charlotte. She lives on an island in a beach cottage along the beach, but the title of the book isn’t referring to this house. Instead, Marcus learns about the history behind an old, bleak, ruined house at the end of the beach that burned down after the family living there disappeared in a horrible hurricane. A young boy with a forgotten name was part of the fallen family and Marcus becomes entangled in the mystery and maybe something even deeper.
Following Marcus as a character felt familiar to me. He’s more mature than most kids his age and it isolates him almost completely outside of one true friend. A layer of that maturity develops from survival mechanisms necessary to emotionally handle the level of poverty and despondency he lives in with his mother. Their relationship stretches past the boundary of ordinary parent-child roles, molding itself instead into more of a codependent relationship, forcing Marcus to be more than a normal child.
At a pivotal moment, Marcus reveals a photograph to his best friend, Wheezer, causing an immediate unexplained rift between them that results in violence and a psychological break in Marcus. It sets up a secondary journey for the young boy who must now find a way to balance the physical world and all its problems against the voices in his head speaking to him from the darkest depths of his soul.
The treasure in ‘Grief Cottage’ is the delicate relationships between the characters. Marcus and his mother, Marcus and Aunt Charlotte, Aunt Charlotte to friends on the island, and more; each one rings true with what we feel in our everyday lives. The unseen dance going on between each pairing sung with silent lyrics of all those things that remain unsaid.
Godwin entraps you with measured pace and subtle notes, building each reveal on top of the next. She is already a New York Times bestseller for ‘Flora’, which is now on my reading list, and I would be shocked if this new novel doesn’t make its way onto that esteemed list along with many others.
‘Grief Cottage’ is a superbly told tale weaving grief, longing, understanding, and purpose inside an unsolved disappearance. A search for a missing boy’s true identity helps lead other to find their own.