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Overview

A brilliantly funny and heartwarming debut about a young woman who stumbles, then fights to build a new life after the death of her husband.

When 36-year-old Sophie Stanton's husband dies of cancer, she desperately wants to be a graceful, composed Jackie Kennedy kind of widow. Alas, Sophie is more of a Jack Daniels kind. Self-medicating with cartons of ice cream for breakfast, showing up to work in her bathrobe and bunny slippers, soon she's lost not only her husband, but her job and her waistline. In an attempt to reinvent her life, Sophie moves to Ashland, Oregon, where she finds an embittered 13-year-old girl with a fascination for fire, a job as Salad Girl at the local French restaurant, and an alarmingly cute actor whom Sophie wishes she didn't like quite so much. Readers will laugh and cry along with Sophie as she proves to the world and herself that she can recover from something this devastating with darkly comic humor and her own type of class. GOOD GRIEF is the perfect book for anyone who has ever been heartbroken, lost someone they loved, or eaten too many Oreos.

Author Biography: Lolly Winston lives with her husband in Los Gatos, California.

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Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
Where Good Grief does have an authentic ring is in its intermittent descriptions of illness and loss. At such moments — as when Sophie looks at pictures of her husband and realizes "that photo paper, cardboard, leather and gold trim outlast most people" — a hint of bitter honesty does emerge. Her anger, however muffled, also flashes on occasion. "Fortunately he was a cautious driver," she writes about Ethan. "Still, as he looked both ways and stuck to the speed limit, malignant cells crept into his lymph nodes."
The New York Times
Ann Hood
Sophie's funny, lopsided view of the world gives emotional depth to the story, and it is what makes Good Grief stand out from other novels that tackle this enormous subject. Winston does not shy away from the pain of mourning, but she reminds us that we can still be funny, sarcastic, aware and smart, even when we are brokenhearted.
The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
"The grief is up already. It is an early riser, waiting with its gummy arms wrapped around my neck, its hot, sour breath in my ear." Sophie Stanton feels far too young to be a widow, but after just three years of marriage, her wonderful husband, Ethan, succumbs to cancer. With the world rolling on, unaware of her pain, Sophie does the only sensible thing: she locks herself in her house and lives on what she can buy at the convenience store in furtive midnight shopping sprees. Everything hurts-the telemarketers asking to speak to Ethan, mail with his name on it, his shirts, which still smell like him. At first Sophie is a "good" widow, gracious and melancholy, but after she drives her car through the garage door, something snaps; she starts showing up at work in her bathrobe and hiding under displays in stores. Her boss suggests she take a break, so she sells her house and moves to Ashland, Ore., to live with her best friend, Ruth, and start over. Grief comes along, too-but with a troubled, pyromaniac teen assigned to her by a volunteer agency, a charming actor dogging her and a new job prepping desserts at a local restaurant, Sophie is forced to explore the misery that has consumed her. Throughout this heartbreaking, gorgeous look at loss, Winston imbues her heroine and her narrative with the kind of grace, bitter humor and rapier-sharp realness that will dig deep into a reader's heart and refuse to let go. Sophie is wounded terribly, but she's also funny, fresh and utterly believable. There's nary a moment of triteness in this outstanding debut. Agent, Laurie Fox. (Apr.) Forecast: With a 100,000-copy printing, a low price point, a huge publicity push and blurbs from Jennifer Weiner and Billie Letts, this should hit the lists. Book Sense pick for March/April. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
After three years of a happy marriage, Sophie's husband dies from cancer, leaving her, in her thirties, with a big house in San Jose, no children, and the terrible grief that seems at first to destroy her. She leaves her Silicon Valley marketing job after a meltdown whereby she arrived at work wearing her robe and slippers and moves to Oregon, where a friend lives. In the course of the first year, amid the bouts of misery and loneliness, she meets new people, including a very disturbed 13-year-old girl, a handsome actor, and a homeless man she finds wearing one of her late husband's sweaters. The protagonist here is grief: all-controlling, all-pervasive, crushing grief that sometimes cycles through all its stages in 15 minutes, sometimes over months. Sophie's grief is unpredictable and impervious to counseling, medication, and the suggestions of friends and family. Reader Amanda Foreman tells Sophie's story with great emotional clarity and gives distinct voices to the people in her life. Recommended for public libraries.-Barbara Valle, El Paso P.L., TX Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A Silicon Valley widow finds the healing power of befriending people worse off than she is. At 36, Sophie Stanton, recent widow of cancer-victim Ethan, finds her situation unbearable: she is lonely, depressed, prone to overeating, obsessed with wearing Ethan's ski sweater, and unable to function as p.r. manager for a California firm that manufactures a "scrotum patch." When Sophie arrives at work in her robe and slippers, she's granted a leave and moves near her separated friend Ruth, in Ashland, Oregon, which has an alternative Shakespeare Festival and available men. Like Bridget Jones, Sophie is made endearing by her many faults: her "hurricane hair," her weight-gaining tendency, her compassion for losers-like the men who try to pick her up-and her unconquerable hopefulness. In her new digs, demoted from waitress to "salad girl" at her bistro job, she finds a touching redemption in mentoring sassy-mouthed Crystal, a 13-year-old who's failing algebra, periodically cuts herself to relieve frustration, and is dismissed by her own mother as a freak. Yet a much-needed friendship sparks between the two, as well as between Sophie and a handsome local actor, Drew, as she comes into her own-invariably over the theme of food!-by opening a cheesecake shop and gaining a heroic autonomy. If all this sounds perfectly familiar, it is, as "women's fiction" assumes an increasingly hackneyed formula, led by the self-deprecating fat girl and packed with ebullient cheerleading and nary a truly dark or original moment. The characters are frothy, the dialogue chipper, the introspection restricted. Death becomes just another hurdle on the way to self-betterment-along with weight-management and resume-padding.Are women this desperate? Effervescent, silly debut: so eager to please that it reads like the speech of the candidate who won't open his mouth before the polls are consulted. First printing of 150,000. Agent: Laurie Fox/Linda Chester Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446533041
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 4/28/2004
  • Pages: 344

Meet the Author

Lolly Winston
Lolly Winston
A former copywriter and PR exec turned writer (her first foray into freelance journalism was as a stringer for Automotive News), Lolly Winston has found her niche as a novelist with Good Grief -- "one of the best first novels I have ever read," according to fellow fiction writer Anne Rivers Siddons.

Biography

With stints in journalism and public relations, plus an M.F.A. in fiction writing from Sarah Lawrence College, Lolly Winston was an experienced writer before she penned her first novel. Still, her initial goal wasn't to write a bestseller -- it was just to finish the manuscript. "Really, I just had the personal goal of finishing a novel before I turned forty," said Winston in an interview on her publisher's Web site. "Even if it was collecting dust in a drawer somewhere when I was on my death bed, I just wanted it to be finished."

The year before she turned forty, Winston took a hiatus from her other writing to complete Good Grief, the wry and touching story of a young woman coping with the death of her husband. Far from collecting dust in a drawer, Winston's novel flew off the shelves. It was chosen as a No. 1 Booksense pick and received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, where the reviewer wrote: "Throughout this heartbreaking, gorgeous look at loss, Winston imbues her heroine and her narrative with the kind of grace, bitter humor and rapier-sharp realness that will dig deep into a reader's heart and refuse to let go."

Good Grief renders the mourning process with such intimacy and accuracy that readers may wonder whether Winston herself is a widow. She isn't, but she did lose both her parents while she was still a young woman. "My father died when I was 29 and four years later my mother died," she explained on her publisher's Web site. "The day that my dad died I went out and bought a bathmat and a new lamp. Grief didn't hit me for a while. I even found myself resenting the mourners at our house. How could they accept his death so readily? I found grief like charging something on a credit card -- you pay later, with interest. Months after my father's death I started breaking down. I remember sitting at my desk at work one day, unable to pick up my pencil."

After her depression began to subside, Winston realized she wanted to write about what grief was really like -- including "the messy, quirky aspects of grief." Accordingly, the heroine of Good Grief sleeps in her late husband's shirts, eats Oreos by the package and drives her car through the closed garage door. She also struggles to keep living and moving forward, even though she can't at first imagine what her future will be like.

The result is a blend of pathos and humor that rings true for many readers. "Refreshingly, Winston has removed the sap factor that often makes these tales of lost love as gooey as Vermont maple syrup or as saccharine as an artificially sweetened Nicholas Sparks novel," noted a reviewer for USA Today.

In an essay on her publisher's Web site, Winston writes about "finding the comedy in tragedy":

"I've always loved novels that are funny and sad at the same time. The Bell Jar, Lolita. If you go back and re-read those books, you rediscover their humor with surprise. Suicidal depression, funny? Pedophilia, funny? Somehow, yes. This seems to be where poignancy comes from -- in finding the irony and humor in the worst things that happen to us in life."

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Winston:

"My first job out of college, with a major in English, was as a breakfast cook at a Sheraton in Durham, North Carolina. You don't ever want to get burned with hot grits."

"I was the world's worst waitress -- I spilled entrees, broke corks, mixed up orders. I was demoted, and that's how I wound up working in the kitchen and working various cooking jobs throughout college and grad school. This is an autobiographical part of Good Grief."

"When I was in my early 20s, I went to Hawaii for eight days and stayed for eight years. I learned to boogie board and dance the hula and barbecue in the wind without using any lighter fluid. My 20s were basically one long summer. Then I had to come home from camp and grow up and face the real world."

"My three cats are my writing companions. I cut and file my cats' nails, brush their teeth, and write songs for them. ‘Life's not too shi#*^, when you're a kitty!' I'm embarrassed to admit that I've become a crazy cat lady."

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    1. Hometown:
      Northern California
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 15, 1961
    2. Place of Birth:
      Hartford, Connecticut
    1. Education:
      Simon’s Rock Early College, 1977-79; B.A., Bard College, 1981; M.F.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 1987
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Good Grief

A Novel
By Lolly Winston

Warner Books

Copyright © 2004 Lolly Winston
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-446-53304-1


Chapter One

How can I be a widow? Widows wear horn-rimmed glasses and cardigan sweaters that smell like mothballs and have crepe-paper skin and names like Gladys or Midge and meet with their other widow friends once a week to play pinochle. I'm only thirty-six. I just got used to the idea of being married, only test-drove the words my husband for three years: My husband and I, my husband and I ... after all that time being single!

As we go around the room introducing ourselves at the grief group, my heart drums in my chest. No wonder people fear public speaking more than death or heights or spiders. I rehearse a few lines in my head:

My name is Sophie and I live in San Jose and my husband died. No. My name is Sophie and my husband passed away of Hodgkin's disease, which is a type of cancer young adults get. Oh, but they probably already know that. This group seems up on its diseases.

A silver-haired man whose wife also died of cancer says that now when he gets up in the morning he doesn't have to poach his wife's egg or run her bath, and he doesn't see the point in getting out of bed. He weeps without making a sound, tears quivering in his eyes, then escaping down his unshaven cheeks. He looks at the floor and kneads his sweater in his hands, which are pink and spotted like luncheon meat.

We sit in a circle of folding chairs in a conference room at the hospital, everyone sipping coffee out of Styrofoam cups and hugging their coats in their laps. Fluorescent lights buzz overhead. They are bright and cruel, exposing the group's despair: the puffy faces, circles under the eyes like bruised fruit, dampened spirits that no longer want to sing along with the radio. There should be a rule for grief groups: forty-watt bulbs only.

The social worker who leads the group balances a clipboard on her knees and takes notes. She has one tooth that is grayer than the others, like an off-color piano key. Is it dead, hollow? I want to leap up and tap it with my fingernail. Surely she's got dental insurance. Why doesn't she fix that tooth?

My name is Sophie and I've joined the grief group because ... well, because I sort of did a crazy thing. I drove my Honda through our garage door. I was coming home from work one night and- even though my husband has been dead for three months-I honestly thought I would run inside and tell him to turn on the radio because they were playing an old recording of Flip Wilson, whom he just loves. Loved. Ethan had been trying to find a copy of this skit for years, and now here it was on the radio. If I hurried, we could tape it. Then I had the sudden realization that my husband was gone, dead, and the next thing I knew the car was lurching through the door. The wood creaked and crunched as I worked the car into reverse and backed through the splintery hole; then Flip Wilson got to the punch line, "And maybe we have a banana for your monkey!" and the audience roared. My shrink, Dr. Rupert, pointed out later that I could have hurt myself or someone else and insisted I join this group.

The Indian woman sitting next to me lost her twin sister, who was hit and killed by a drunk driver. Her long black braids hang like elegant tassels down the back of her pumpkin-colored sari. She says she and her sister shared a room until they left home, and after that they talked to each other every day on the telephone. Now she dreams that the phone is ringing in the middle of the night. But when she awakens the house is silent; she picks up the phone and no one is there and she can't fall back to sleep and she's exhausted during the day. She hears phones ringing everywhere, in the car, at work, at the store. Now, she shudders and cups her ears with her slender brown fingers. I want to get her number and call her so that when she picks up someone will be on the other end.

Suddenly everyone in the circle is looking at me expectantly, and I wish I'd had a little more time to prepare for the meeting before racing here from work. I can feel my uncooperative curly brown hair puffing in crazy directions, as if it wants to leave the room. On some days it forms silky ringlets, on others Roseanne Roseanna-danna frizz.

"My name is Sophie Stanton and my husband died of cancer three months ago ...," I stammer, tucking my fingers into the curls. My voice sounds loud and warbly in the too bright room. I try to talk and hold in my stomach at the same time, because my slacks are unbuttoned under my sweater to accommodate a waistline swollen from overmedicating with frozen waffles; I think I feel the zipper creeping down my former size six belly. That seems like enough for now, anyway. "Thank you," I add, not wanting to seem unfriendly.

"Thank you, Sophie," the social worker says. Her voice is as high and sweet as a Mouseketeer's.

Maybe later I'll tell the group how I dream about Ethan every night. That he's still alive in the eastern standard time zone and if I fly to New York, I can see him for another three hours. That I'm mixing chocolate and strawberry Ensure into a muddy potion that will restore his hemoglobin. When I wake at three or four in the morning, my nightgown is soaked and stuck to my back and the walls pulse around me. But by the time I get to Dr. Rupert's office, I've sunk into a zombie calm. It's sort of like when you bring your car into the shop and it stops making that troublesome noise.

Dr. Rupert says to keep busy. For the past three months I've been rushing from work to various activities: a book club, a pottery class, volunteer outings for the Audubon Society. We rescued a flock of sandpipers on the beach. Something toxic had leaked from a boat into the water, and the birds reared and stumbled and flapped their wings as we scooped them into crates. I rented a Rototiller and turned over the hard, dry earth at the very back of our yard and planted sunflowers and cosmos that shot straight through the September heat toward the sky. Everyone said how well I was doing, how brave I was.

Then I drove my car through the garage door. "Screw the birds!" I yelled at Dr. Rupert in my session that afternoon. "Screw the books, screw the sunflowers!" He scribbled on his little pad, then told me about this group.

There are fifteen of us in the circle. My eyes scan the sets of feet, counting: two, four, six, eight, ten. Two, four, six, eight, ten. Two, four, six, eight, ten. Thirty feet. Fifteen people. Hush Puppies and Reeboks and penny loafers.

The group meets at the hospital where Ethan died. I haven't been back since his death. But I remember everything about this place. How Ethan lay in bed, gray and speckly as a trout. The smells of rubbing alcohol and canned peas and souring flower arrangements. The patients, wrapped like mummies, being wheeled on gurneys through the halls. The monotone pages over the PA, the operator saying things like "Code five hundred" and "Dr. So-and-So to surgery" as calmly as if she were reporting a spill in aisle six.

Great idea! Let's go back to the hospital once a week. You remember the hospital.

Now everyone is looking at me again, and the social worker is saying something.

"Pardon?" "What did your husband do, Sophie?"

I push my glasses up on my nose (a little problem with oversleeping prevents me from wearing my contact lenses these days) and peer out at the circle of forlorn faces. "He was a software engineer." "I see." She adds that to her yellow pad.

How odd to reduce a person to a job title. While he didn't like sweets, he did eat sugared cereals, I want to tell her. His feet were goofy. A couple of those toes looked like peanuts, really. And what a slob. You would not want to ride in his car, because it smelled like sour milk and you'd be ankle-deep in take-out wrappers and dirty coffee mugs. He loved Jerry Lewis movies. One movie made him laugh so hard that beer shot out of his nose. I fight to suppress a giggle as I think of this. Or maybe it's a scream. A dangerous tickle lurks in the back of my throat, and I check to see how close the door is, in case I need to escape.

"And how did you two meet?"

Unfortunately I am clear on the other side of the room from the door, stranded in this circle of feet. A pair of laid-back Birkenstocks scoffs at my uptight career pumps. I clear my throat.

"While I was visiting college friends here for Thanksgiving." I think of how Ethan sat beside me at dinner, moving someone else's plate to another spot while the person was in the kitchen and wedging himself in beside me. Geez, I thought. Strangely overconfident software geek.

"How nice. Did you date from afar at first, then?" "Yes, we had a long-distance relationship for a year, then I moved here and we lived together for a year and then we married." "Very good."

I feel as if I could have said we were embezzlers and the social worker would have thought that was nice.

A few of the other women are widows, too, but they're older than me. One has white hair and glasses with lenses as big as coasters that magnify her eyes, making them look like pale blue stones underwater.

There's a man whose wife was killed in a car accident on Highway 1, and his ten-year-old daughter is having her first sleep-over party this weekend. She told him this morning that she hated him because he didn't know what Mad Libs are, and she wanted Mad Libs at her party, and why did her mother have to die and not him since he's so stupid? The man's voice speeds up and his Styrofoam cup cracks as he squeezes it. A dribble of coffee leaks onto his khakis. He tells us about the dozen girls coming to sleep in his family room this Saturday night and how he wants to surprise his daughter with an ice-cream cake; he's pretty sure that's what she wants, but his wife didn't leave any notes about the party and he's afraid to ask his daughter because he doesn't want to upset her any more.

"I think she likes mint chocolate chip," he says, looking down, his pink double chin folding over the stiff collar of his white work-shirt, which looks impossibly tight.

I want to squeeze his plump hand and tell him it's going to be all right. I know, because I was thirteen when my mother died in a car accident on her way to work, and my father and I were left to fend for ourselves.

That was my first experience with death, and I wished then that I'd gotten a dress rehearsal with a distant, elderly relative. A great-aunt Dolores whose whiskery kisses I dreaded. The only death experience before my mother was my hamster, George, who somehow got confused and ate all of the cedar chips in his cage. I came home from school to find him lying still as a stuffed animal, his water bottle dripping on his head. But there was a new hamster by that weekend who performed all of the old hamster's tricks: running in his wheel and fidgeting with his apple slice and popping his head through a toilet paper roll.

"The death of a loved one isn't really something you ever get over," the group leader explains, leaning forward in her chair. She wears a fluffy white angora sweater with a cowl neck reaching to her chin, so it looks as though her head is resting on a cloud. "Instead, one morning you wake up and it's not the first thing you think of."

While I know she's right, I can't imagine that this morning will ever come to my house.

By now, everyone in the group is sniffling and honking, and a box of Kleenex is making the rounds. As the gold foil box comes my way, I pull out several tissues and hold the wad in my hand like a bouquet. But I'm the only one in the circle who isn't crying. You don't cry at a scary movie, do you? Dr. Rupert thinks the group will help me move from denial to anger to bargaining to depression to acceptance to hope to lingerie to housewares to gift wrap. But it seems the elevator is stuck. For the past three months I've been lodged in the staring-out- the-window-and-burning-toast stage of grief.

Now my cuticles demand my attention. Pick at us, they insist. Yank away. Don't mind the blood. Keep going. At last, a use for Kleenex. As I blot at the blood, the counselor glances my way and says you have to find ways to release your anger.

"Keep a box of garage-sale dishes you don't care about," she suggests. "And break them when you're upset." She says you can lay down a blanket and throw the dishes at the garage, then roll the whole thing up when you're done. She's enthusiastic about how easy this is, as if she's relaying a remarkably simple recipe. It's hard to imagine her stepping on an ant, let alone breaking a service for twelve.

Would it be all right if I threw dishes at my former mother-in-law?

I want to ask the counselor. Marion, Ethan's mother, calls every other day now to insist that she come over and help me pack up Ethan's stuff for Goodwill. I dread the thought of her snoopy paws all over his Frank Zappa CDs and Lakers T-shirts. She'd probably want to chuck his frayed flannel shirts, which I've started sleeping in because they're as soft as moss and smell like Ethan. Marion's house is as neat as a museum. The only trace of the past is one family photo on the baby grand piano. It was taken the day of Ethan's college graduation, and he stands between Marion and Charlie, his father, who died a few months later of a heart attack. Ethan's smiling and the tassel on his graduation cap is airborne, as if it might propel him through the future. Marion looks up at him, bursting with awe.

Marion's always needling me to get ahold of myself. "You have to get back on the horse, dear!" she'll chirp. "Chin up, chin up!" Get-your-act-together euphemisms that say, Look, I'm a widow, too, and now I've lost my only son, but you don't see me driving through my garage door or inhaling pralines and cream out of the carton for break-fast.

I would like to bean Marion with a gravy boat.

Now, even the men are weeping. I'll bet the counselor feels she's making real progress here. I'll bet tears are to a grief counselor what straight teeth are to an orthodontist.

Still, dry eyes for me. Maybe I need the remedial grief group.

Maybe there's a book, The Idiot's Guide to Grief. Or Denial for Dummies.

Maybe this is going to be like ice-skating backward, which I never got the hang of. Or like Girl Scouts, which I got kicked out of for having a poor attitude. I didn't have any badges and wasn't enthusiastic about making my coffee-can camp stove and wouldn't wear that Patty Hearst beret while selling cookies. (It was hot and made your ears itch!) The troop leader, Mrs. Swensen, called my mother to say that I should find an after-school activity I was more enthusiastic about. She didn't know that I had been working on the cooking badge.

Continues...


Excerpted from Good Grief by Lolly Winston Copyright © 2004 by Lolly Winston. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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