Author Ann Hood coming to Block Island Aug. 1Will talk about new book, "The Obituary Writer"
Novelist Ann Hood was once asked to write an obituary about someone she didn’t really know that well.
“He was a friend of a friend,” Hood told The Block Island Times. “I met him at a dinner party, and we had a long chat at dinner. He died shortly after that day.” As he had been a fan of her writing, she was asked to write his obituary.
“It was a challenge,” said Hood. “There’s an enormous responsibility in bringing someone’s life to a page. That experience led me to imagine someone whose job it is to bring someone to life.”
She fabricated a fictional character, Vivien Lowe, whose job in 1919 San Francisco is to do just that — write obituaries. Vivien became one of two protagonists in Hood’s new novel, “The Obituary Writer.”
Hood will be talking about this novel next week, Thursday, Aug. 1, at Block Island’s Island Free Library starting at 6 p.m. At this event, which is co-sponsored by the library and Island Bound Bookstore, Hood will read excerpts from the novel, and talk about her process writing it.
In the “The Obituary Writer,” the other protagonist is named Claire, from Washington D.C., and on vacation in Providence, R.I.. Claire’s story takes place on the day president John F. Kennedy was inaugurated in 1961.
“Claire is someone who did everything right,” said Hood. “She married the right guy and she’s got a beautiful home. But now she’s unhappy.”
Somehow, these two fictional women, living decades apart, are connected. How? Hood is not ready to give away that answer — not yet anyway.
“That would be a big spoiler,” said Hood, but she added that she might talk about it next week on Block Island.
Overall, Hood said the book is “about two women grappling with love and regret and making decisions about how to go forward.” It explores the roles of both women in these two time periods.
“Oddly, the woman in 1919 is more liberated,” said Hood. “She was in an era that had more freedom.” However, Claire, in 1961, feels trapped in her role: “She tries to talk to friends, but she can’t. She feels isolated.”
Hood said that the book took her three years to write, partially because of the extensive research she put into the writing. “I watched old videos of the Kennedy Inauguration and read newspaper articles,” she described. “It’s all about immersing yourself in that time period and in the culture.”
One thing, Hood noted, that is unusual in its historical setting is Vivien’s job of an obituary writer in 1919 — Hood did this on purpose.
“The New York Times just published a collection of its obituaries over the last five years,” explained Hood. “If my woman was contemporary, then her job wouldn’t be unusual. In the early 1900s, what she did was really rare.”
Hood said that she “always tries to write outside of my own perspective.” While once, as a juvenile writer, Hood believed that she needed experience and travel to have material to write about, she now knows that’s not true.
“You have to look more inward,” she said. She said her inspiration comes from her passions and thoughts.
“I really just write about things that keep me up at night,” said Hood. “Most of the books I write are at heart about women and their emotions, and how they navigate their complications.”
Hood was born in West Warwick, R.I. and currently resides in Providence. She is the author of more than 15 books, including “The Knitting Circle” and “The Red Thread.”