Book Review: The Rules of Inheritance

Book Review: The Rules of Inheritance

  • Title: The Rules of Inheritance
  • Language: Claire Bidwell Smith
  • Hardcover:304 pages
  • Publisher:Hudson Street Press (February 2, 2012)
  • ISBN-10:1594630887
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594630880


A resonant memoir of the ways untimely good-byes echo through the years by a writer who has considered every nuance of grief.
Claire Bidwell Smith — an only child — was just fourteen years old when both of her parents were diagnosed with cancer within months of each other. “I’ve already come to the conclusion that I will probably be parentless by the time I am thirty,” Claire writes in her powerful debut.
As her mother begins to succumb during Claire’s first year of college, Claire hurtles towards loss. She throws herself into the arms of anything she thinks might hold her up: boys, alcohol, traveling, and the anonymity of cities like New York and Los Angeles. Her every choice carries the weight of a young woman’s world, and it feels like a solitary place. Words — books, diaries, letters, family stories — become Claire’s true companions, and provide a glimpse of the future, however foreign.
In New York, she studies writing and learns the ways of the world, falling in and out of love with a troubled young man, all the while grappling not only with her own lonelieness and regret but that of her aging father. She joins him in Los Angeles as a novice journalist, and records one last thrilling entry in their nuclear family history in the fields of Eastern Europe in search of his World War II past. When it is time to say good-bye, once more the fragility of life astonishes.
Defying a conventional framework, this memoir is told in nonlinear fashion, using the five stages of grief as a window into Claire’s experience, at once heartbreaking and uplifting. “Why would anyone want to walk into pain?” Claire asks. “But when I did, I found that it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would.”
Each step brings her closer to finding the meaning of the rules of inheritance, and how they will shape her future — as a woman, as a wife, as a mother. As in the very best personal writing, Claire’s superbly resonant words render the personal universal.


Claire Bidwell Smith lives in Los Angeles with her husband Greg Boose and their daughter. Claire is an experienced therapist specializing in grief and the author of the  memoir THE RULES OF INHERITANCE(Penguin/Hudson St., February 2012).Claire has a bachelor’s degree from The New School University in Manhattan and a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University in Los Angeles. She has written for many publications including Time Out New York, Yoga Journal, BlackBook Magazine, The Huffington Post and Chicago Public Radio. She has also worked for nonprofits like Dave Eggers’ literacy center 826LA and most recently worked as a bereavement counselor for a hospice in Chicago.


Call me a coward if you want, but grief has never been a subject that I liked to consider. But then, who does?

I’m sure a girl of fourteen wouldn’t want to consider death, loss and grief either, but that is just what Claire Bidwell Smith had to go through. She pretty much grew up in anticipation of this loss and by the time she is in her mid twenties, she was embroiled in it. It’s staggering for someone like me to even imagine. It’s my worst nightmare come to life.

I wanted to put the book down after the first chapter. Not that it was badly written or hard to read. I wanted to put it down because the pain is palpable even early on in the book. It’s like a huge wave is coming and you can’t see it but you can feel it rumbling and hear it roaring. It’s coming… and there’s no avoiding it.

But that’s the wondrous thing about a well written book, when it can elicit that fear you’ve been hiding and bring it to the surface, then you know there’s gotta be something there. This book scared me, it made me sad, it made me want to cry… but it also made me want to live my life better because it is short. It reminded me again to spend as much time and cherish the people you love because you don’t know how long you will have with them. It also reminded me to forgive… forgive myself first of all, and that no matter how harsh the suffering, there is always that chance that we can emerge stronger and better just as the author did.


“This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.”

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