Thursday, February 23, 2012

Turning Grief Inside Out - Reviewing Claire Bidwell Smith's "The Rules of Inheritance"

I have had the opportunity to participate in the BlogHer book review campaign and had the pleasure of reading "The Rules of Inheritance" by Claire Bidwell Smith. I read it cover to cover in one afternoon and am pleased to share my thoughts with you all!

The Rules of Inheritance is an honest portrayal of a girl finding her way, and her self, through grief. Bidwell Smith uses Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief to section out her memoir and organize her life events and thoughts according to the grieving process. Through denial, anger, bargaining, and acceptance, Claire tells the story of a girl struggling to define herself by the loss of her mother. The chapters provide a cross-section of Claire's life and sense of self, opening rabbit-holes for the reader to gaze into. At first, this seems to chop up the narrative, bringing the reader to peer across decades of Claire's life as if through a keyhole. However, as the book progresses, there is a masterful deliberateness in Bidwell Smith's vignettes that showcase both a life of chaos and rebellion, and a childlike yearning for a mother gone. It reminds us that life, like grief, is not linear or static.

This memoir is one of the most honest accounts of a daughter's grief, at times even uncomfortable in it's bluntness. Claire expresses a revulsion for her mother's dry, gray, cracked and dying body - yet also a desire to be able to relieve her suffering. Claire at once wants to rub Vaseline on her mother's cracked lips and to run away from the sight of this dying monster. The juxtaposition of her avoidance to witness the death of her mother and her almost compulsion to witness the death of her father, maps years of growth from child to woman. In caring so carefully for her father in his final months, Claire also finally allowed herself to process the loss of her mother. Bidwell Smith's treatment of these memories is poignant, and heartbreakingly beautiful.

Claire Bidwell Smith peppers what could be a very dark and heavy memoir with lighter moments, funny anecdotes from fumbling relationships or silly mistakes that everyone experiences on their paths through life. These serve to shift the focus from death to life, to the impossibility of finding yourself when you are most lost. One night stands, failed relationships, self-loathing, anger and fear come crashing together in Claire's life just as her father is dying. It is in that death that she truly finds herself, that she stops trying desperately to define herself as different, and find sameness through bereavement.

Bidwell Smith uses the fifth and final stage of grief - acceptance - as a turning point in Claire's search for herself. In the loss of her father Claire finds a life for herself, and a way to reconcile the child, woman, mother, and orphan inside of her. This book is a beautiful portrayal of a lost girl who found womanhood by sitting with her grief. Bidwell Smith writes with a fluidity, almost conversationally, in complete thoughts and observations, yet so astoundingly real and from the heart that the reader feels like a witness to her rebirth. A must read for anyone interested in turning the inner workings of the mind inside out, and finding broken perfection within.

**This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club, however the thoughts and opinions expressed within are my own**

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It sounds like a wonderful book that I'll have to read!