Cover image for The obituary writer
The obituary writer
Shreve, Porter.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., 2000.
Physical Description:
216 pages ; 21 cm
General Note:
"A Mariner original."
Format :


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Gordie Hatch is twenty-two, charmingly naive, and certain that his first job as a writer for the ST LOUIS INDEPENDENT'S obituary page will be a stepping stone to a crackerjack career in journalism. The year is 1989, and Gordie watches helplessly while dramatic events -- the very events that could be his lucky break -- unfold in the world around him. But nothing can prepare him for the call he gets from Alicia Whiting, a young widow with an accent he can't quite place. When Gordie agrees to meet Alicia, against his better judgment, his journalistic curiosity quickly turns into an obsessive search for the outrageous truth behind the Whiting family. Shot through with affectionate humor and surprising twists and turns, THE OBITUARY WRITER introduces an author of enormous talent and heart. Porter Shreve brings a deft touch to the moments that mark a young person's entrance into the world, and a sharp eye to the ways in which the lead story can be wonderfully, seductively misleading.

Author Notes

Porter Shreve was born during the Lyndon Johnson administration, grew up in Washington, D.C., and has attended three presidential inaugurations: Carter '77, Clinton '93, and Clinton '97. In the 1970s his family started an alternative school called Our House Is a Very, Very, Very Fine House, and some of When the White House Was Ours is loosely based on that experience. Shreve's first novel, The Obituary Writer, was a New York Times Notable Book, and his second, Drives Like a Dream, wasa Chicago Tribune Book of the Year. He lives with his wife, the writer Bich Minh Nguyen, in Chicago and West Lafayette, Indiana, where he directs the creative writing program at Purdue University.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Balancing lies and reality is a complex pursuit in Shreve's first novel, a poignant coming-of-age story centering on an aspiring journalist, Gordon Hatch, eager to live up to the standard set by his late father, a renowned reporter who covered John F. Kennedy's assassination and its aftermath. Gordie, 22, is presently a lowly obituary writer, a job he takes seriously, preparing a file of "advancers," obituaries of elderly famous people. He gets a phone call, which might be his first scoop and lucky break, from Alicia Whiting, a young widow, who pulls Gordie into the heart of her own pathological identity crisis. While trying to hide the truth of his humble job at the St. Louis Independent from his mother, who constantly compares his career to that of his father, and from Alicia, who quickly becomes his lover, Gordie weaves a web of lies nearly impossible to escape. But Gordie's web is nowhere near as complex as Alicia's, and as he faces some shocking truths about his lover, and about his parents, Gordie has to reevaluate the importance of truth itself. Although the story raises compelling questions about honesty and friendship, Gordie's epiphanies lack power, often falling flat: when Gordie finally appreciates the loyalty and support of his mother and his former girlfriend, he says, "It dawned on me that my mother and Thea were good, that they had wanted to see me on my birthday." Lucidly demonstrating the widening gulf between Gordie and those who love him, Shreve then offers disappointingly little to bridge it, particularly since the lies and betrayals exposed are devastating, though the ultimate surprise, the lynchpin of the plot, lacks credibility. Yet unexpected twists, the deft buildup of suspense and a clever premise sustain the momentum. Agent, Joe Regal. Author tour. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



1 My father, who died when I was five, had a reputation as a great newspaperman. I never doubted that I could be one too. "It's a matter of destiny," my mother would say to me with her usual drama. I believed her, and that's where my trouble began. I was eight when I took my first paper route - three hundred houses with the Columbia Pioneer at ninety-five dollars a week. That first winter, my mother delivered the papers with me. She woke me at five in the morning dressed in a scarf, sweatshirt and jogging pants, white moon boots, and her old camel-hair coat, and we went out into darkness to the corner of Stadium and La Grange to pick up the bundles. On certain days the distributors would leave inserts - the home section on Tuesdays, real estate on Fridays, comics, coupons, classifieds, and Parade for the Sunday paper - and my mother and I would sit on the cold floor of the garage putting inserts and headsheets together, folding the papers in thirds, slipping them into plastic sleeves. When we had folded and bagged all three hundred papers, my mother popped the hatchback of what was then her brand-new 1975 AMC Gremlin, brown with a white racing stripe. We stacked the papers in the back of the car, then sat in the front, waiting in silence as the Gremlin warmed up. This was the best time of the day. The silence, the murkiness of first light, the warm air from the heater closing around us. By the time I was twelve, I was collecting newspapers. I'd save one a day from my morning route, and my mother, Lorraine, who was a secretary at the University of Missouri Journalism School, would bring home thumbed-through discards from the school library. I kept a handwritten log of what stories I deemed important, by date and subject, from the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Dallas Morning News. The papers piled up in labeled stacks in the garage, until eventually I had so many that my mother had to park her car in the driveway. This must have been an inconvenience, since we had limited space, but she wasn't about to let an AMC Gremlin, which smelled of engine oil when you turned on the heat, roll over my dreams.I grew up with a heightened sense of my own importance, which my mother encouraged. She figured an only child with a single parent ought to be treated as exceptional. "Great men like your father come along only rarely," she liked to say, beginning an exhortation I'd hear many times throughout my youth, often following the arrival of more bad news from school. I'd come home from basketball, a skinny sixteen, and she'd be standing by the microwave lining Triscuits onto a plate, slicing cheese to melt on top. I'd go to the refrigerator for a soda and see my final grades taped to the door. "Some who are born great fall through the cracks," she'd say, waving the knife in a backhand motion, narrowing her wide-set eyes on me. "Maybe they end up homeless. Maybe dead. Maybe they go crazy. Who knows? If you're born great, the rule is: you soar to the Excerpted from The Obituary Writer by Porter Shreve All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.