Summary and book reviews of Gob's Grief by Chris Adrian

Gob's Grief

By Chris Adrian

Gob's Grief
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2001,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2002,
    368 pages.

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Book Summary

The literary debut of an electrifying talent that gives the historical novel an exhilarating dose of originality, style, and visionary energy.

Gob's Grief recounts the lives of Gob and Tomo Woodhull, fictional twin sons of the real Victoria Woodhull, the nineteenth-century proto-feminist. In August of 1863, Tomo, who is eleven years old, runs off to the Civil War and dies in his first battle. Gob grows up in a profound state of grief, and by the time that he's an adult studying to be a doctor in New York City, he has begun to make real a dream to build a machine that might bring Tomo - indeed, all the war dead - back to life.

As Gob's obsessions deepen, we are taken from the battlefields at Chickamauga Creek to the society balls of New York, from innocent childhoods in Homer, Ohio, to the building of the Brooklyn Bridge; and as the machine grows, so does the amazing cast of real and imagined characters: Walt Whitman, ministering lovingly to the Civil War wounded; Mrs. Woodhull and her sister Tennessee, doing business on Wall Street and riding churning tides of scandal; Gob's friend Will Fie, a war veteran who builds a house from glass images of suffering and death; Maci Trufant, Victoria Woodhull's protege and Gob's great love; and even unnatural Pickie Beecher, a child who seems to float sinisterly between the living and the dead. These disparate lives come together in support of Gob's endeavor, but the abolition of death and the success of his machine may come at a price more hideous and awful than any of them can know.

Both convincing in its portrayal of the collective madness America went through after the carnage of the Civil War, and otherworldly in its contemplation of obsessive grief and longing, Gob's Grief is at once an announcement of a major talent, and an extraordinary achievement in literary art.

1

Walt dreamed his brother's death at Fredericksburg. General Burnside, appearing as an angel at the foot of his bed, announced the tragedy: "The army regrets to inform you that your brother, George Washington Whitman, was shot in the head by a lewd fellow from Charleston." The general alit on the bedpost and drew his dark wings close about him, as if to console himself. Moonlight limned his strange whiskers and his hair. Burnside's voice shook as he went on. "Such a beautiful boy. I held him in my arms while his life bled out. See? His blood made this spot." He pointed at his breast, where a dark stain in the shape of a bird lay on the blue wool. "I am so very sorry," the General said, choking and weeping. Tears fell in streams from his eyes, ran over the bed and out the window, where they joined the Rappahannock, which had somehow come north to flow through Brooklyn, bearing the bodies of all the late battle's dead.

In the morning Walt read the wounded list in the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

About This Guide

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of Chris Adrian's Gob's Grief--an intimate portrait of individual human suffering and an unusual history of the American physical and social landscape scarred by the Civil War. In this eerie and brilliant debut novel a fascinating cast of both real and fictional characters is assembled who all share one common trait: grief for brethren who were lost in the bloodiest war fought on United States soil. And from this context emerges one tortured soul whose despair grows into a maniacal obsession with resurrecting the dead.

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Time Out, New York - John Freeman

A soulful, searching literary debut...Unlike many first time novelists, Adrian takes great risks here. He brings to life scores of historical figures, from Walt Whitman to Abe Lincoln, with a startling ease and grace. More remarkable, however, is his ability to inspire sympathy for—even faith in—Gob's mission. It is a testament to Adrian's powers as a writer that we finish this story crushed anew by the knowledge that we can never truly revive our lost ones.

Publisher's Weekly

Much like Gob's creation, the novel is a collection of fabulous parts in need of a heart to power them, yet impressing as a flight of fancy. FYI Every Night for a Thousand Years, the New Yorker story from which this novel stemmed, was anthologized in Best American Short Stories 1998.

Reader Reviews
Karen Corcoran Dabkowski

One of my favorite books of all time. Chris Adrian uses nothing less than genius in making the characters of history 'breathe' in ways that make it hard to leave them at the end of this book.

His wonderful blending of history and the fantastical is...   Read More

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