The age of grief

by Jane Smiley

Paper Book, 1988




London : Collins, 1988


The luminous novella and stories in The Age of Grief explore the vicissitudes of love, friendship, and marriage with all the compassion and insight that have come to be expected from Jane Smiley, the Pulitzer Prize--winning author of A Thousand Acres. In "The Pleasure of Her Company," a lonely, single woman befriends the married couple next door, hoping to learn the secret of their happiness. In "Long Distance," a man finds himself relieved of the obligation to continue an affair that is no longer compelling to him, only to be waylaid by the guilt he feels at his easy escape. And in the incandescently wise and moving title novella, a dentist, aware that his wife has fallen in love with someone else, must comfort her when she is spurned, while maintaining the secret of his own complicated sorrow. Beautifully written, with a wry intelligence and a lively comic touch, The Age of Grief captures moments of great intimacy with grace, clarity, and indelible emotional power.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member rosencrantz79
I was on the fence with Jane Smiley when my writing workshop professor assigned The Age of Grief as required reading. I had read A Thousand Acres (liked it) and tried to read Moo (having grown up and attended university in the Midwest, I discovered that I knew a real-life version of every character
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in Moo, and had to abandon it, having already lived the reality). Happily, this collection put me on the pro-Smiley side of things. The title novella was the best piece; additionally, I really liked "Dynamite" and "Long Distance."
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LibraryThing member suesbooks
Unfortunately, this book became very tedious. It's my least favorite of the Smiley books. The final short story was exceedingly long, and filled with mundane details.
LibraryThing member sainsborough
The subject matter of the title novella is tedious, although Jane Smiley's usual artful observations salvage it to some extent. My major criticism, though, is that these could not be the musings of a man! I kept thinking I was hearing Jane Smiley working through her own marital experiences.
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short stories were engaging and intriguing - ideal for consumption on train journeys.
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LibraryThing member love2laf
Well written short stories, but truly depressing, hopeless, sad. I'm finding that the tone of a book really affects my mood, and this is not really a state of mind I want to be in. Incredibly good writing though.
LibraryThing member bluepigeon
I am on a short story kick lately, and Smiley fed my addiction perfectly. The collection has five shorts and the novella that gives the book its title. One thing that is immediately clear is Smiley is extremely apt in creating different voices. Some short story writers prefer third-person narration
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and thus tend to have the same narration voice throughout their stories (for example, Carver). Smiley writes (in this collection) mostly in first-person and with incredible agility, creates characters, points of view, and narration styles that are very diverse. This, in addition to her mastery of the everyday words, makes the collection stand out.

There is a wide range of emotion and personal exploration in the stories, too. Perhaps the craziest of the stories is "Jeffrey, Believe Me," which is about a woman who is willing to go a bit further than most to get pregnant. "Dynamite" is strangely tense as the ex-anarchist narrator describes her now-sedate life in the country. "The Pleasure of Her Company" and "Lily" are narrated by the third wheel, a woman who witnesses the relationship of a couple. "Long Distance" is the most "American" of the stories, though it pivots around the relationship of an American man with a Japanese woman we never meet. And "The Age of Grief," which seems like the masterpiece in the collection, vibrates with mourning loss during the time of possession, but I wold argue that it only seems that way due to the fact that a novella allows for more space to create depth or character and situation.

Recommended for those who enjoy reading about other people's lives. Also, recommended for those who like LGBT/queer content in literature not marketed for a specific audience as such. Lastly, recommended for those who love or hate dentists, fertilizer plants, driving in snow storms, remodeling, and toddlers.
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LibraryThing member katiekrug
This would have been just a 3-star read for me if not for the eponymous novella that closes out the collection. It's the story of an ordinary man and his love for his family, including his wife whom he believes to be cheating on him. There is a section where the family deals with the flu that was
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just wonderful - funny and sad and heart-stirring.

The rest of the collection is composed of fairly slight short stories that were fine but didn't do much for me. Smiley's writing is excellent, of course, but the stories were not compelling to me.

Notes: Read for the American Author Challenge.
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LibraryThing member bookwyrmm
Moving collection of stories, especially the title novella.
LibraryThing member rosalita
An uneven collection of short stories and a longer piece, ultimately worth reading for the strength of the novella that gives the book its title. The wonder is that Smiley skillfully uses a variety of narrative voices both male and female in this collection, from a fugitive radical from the Sixties
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to a gentle and contemplative dentist confronted against his will with evidence of his beloved wife's infidelity. Some of the stories ("Long Distance") are so slight as to be barely there, while others ("The Pleasure of Her Company") so exquisitely detail the emotional life of the protagonist as to be almost painful to read. Overall, recommended.
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