The Rules of Inheritance: a book review

Thursday, February 23, 2012
I never know how I'll feel about memoirs. It's a tricky genre. How much do you tell in order to make your story compelling and real to your readers? What do you hold back for the sake of others included in the memoir? When do you cross the line of being too self-centered to craft effective and accessible prose?

I'll admit, when I sat down with The Rules of Inheritance, a memoir of writer, grief therapist, and blogger Claire Bidwell Smith's experience with losing both of her parents had a young age, I had my doubts about how well Claire and I were going to get along over the course of the nearly 300-page memoir. In a book with a theme of excessive drinking, references to smoking at seemingly ever page turn, and oh so stereotypical "rebellious teen" shoplifting incidences, I wasn't sure Claire and I had anything in common.

Of course, Claire always was a little different from her peers. Her mother was 40 when she born; her father was 57. When Claire's fourteen years old, both of her parents are diagnosed with cancer within weeks of each other. Her mother dies during her first semester of college and her father passes when she is in her early 20s. The Rules of Inheritance is a fractured look at the events leading up to and proceeding the death of her parents -- bad boyfriends, the aforementioned excessive drinking, walking away from a big fancy magazine job, a European trip with her elderly father -- and how all those experiences came to shape her as a wife, mother, writer, and therapist today.

Although my experiences are far removed from Claire's, she has a knack for telling the truth and her capability to convey the cores of her feelings and experiences made her story feel meaningful and relevant to me. By the end, I found myself really caring about Claire; she had become a real, fully-formed person in my mind, not some hazy "real person character" stuck in the pages of a book. The fact that I can read her blog or follow her Twitter feed only reinforces that feeling.

The narrative is laid out in five sections, each section named for a stage in Kubler's famous stages of grief. It's been stated many times in recent years that humans don't move through the stages of grief in linear manner and so the book is not laid out in a linear manner.  In the first chapter, she's a college freshmen; in the next, a high school freshmen; in the next, a 20 something with her first "real" job; and so on. As a reader, that lack of linearity is initially frustrating. We want a clear trajectory from point A and point B. But Claire knows only too well that life is dissonant and unexpected and I think her decision to challenge readers with a nonlinear layout is a good one. Linear or not, that story comes together as clear memoir of living with grief and pain while becoming the person you want to be.

Interested in hearing what others are saying about The Rules of Inheritance? You can join in the conversation over at the BlogHer Book Club

Disclosure: I participated in this review for the BlogHer Book Club. I was compensated for my time and received a complimentary copy of the book, however all opinions expressed in the review are my own.


  1. I would not ordinarily read something like this but your review has intrigued me. Although her life does not compare to mine either, I like a challenge and because of your positive experience, I shall put this on my reading list and eventually check out the blog. Oh .. and thanks for your review here. I enjoy your blog ~

  2. Your review of this book is great. I read the book myself and, although, I loved it, had a hard time finding the words to do it justice. She did indeed become a real person, but also made the grief and pain so real (which so often difficult to get across in writing).

    The book forced me to deal with a lot of the grief that I had been bottling since my own father died just over four years ago and I was wondering how readers that had never gone through that type of loss would react to her book.

    Thanks for the review!

  3. sometimes I like the non-linear structure- almost like it gives me an out to pick and choose how much I read of something instead of reading from start to finish. Call me lazy haha

  4. I am very much with Debra. Intrigued. I chekced online and as far as I udnerstood there is wild gralic up North too, just a bit later though. If not to be found, mince some fresh garlic but use very little. Or mix the chopped green of spring onions with a tiny bit of minced garlic. I love those galette rolls! Thanks for the encouragement in writing a ebook about my old world recipes and stories. I just might. Still workin on my lavender ebook though!Have a great weekend!

  5. Lovely book review. following you back from the exposure 99%blog hop.Thanks for linking up.


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