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Gob's Grief

Chris Adrian

547 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0767902815 / ISBN 13: 9780767902816
Published by Broadway Books, New York, 2000
Condition: Fine Hardcover
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Author's first novel. Praised as a major new talent. Post civil war, fictional sons of a 'real' feminist, Virginia Woodhull. Bookseller Inventory # 003288

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Gob's Grief

Publisher: Broadway Books, New York

Publication Date: 2000

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition:Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: Fine

Edition: First Edition, First Printing

About this title


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 protégé 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.


Unlike many a novelist, Chris Adrian isn't intimidated by history. Indeed, he treats historical events as raw material, to be reshaped and reconfigured through the processes of the imagination. It's an endeavor that would please Walt Whitman, one of the central characters in this challenging debut, Gob's Grief. Nor is the good gray poet the only "real" character--both Abraham Lincoln and radical feminist Victoria Woodhull put in appearances, giving an extra twist of verisimilitude to Adrian's rendering of America circa 1863, where the Civil War rages and the dead proliferate like weeds.

Gob's Grief opens with the story of Tomo, the fictional son of Woodhull. At age 11, he dreams of escaping Homer, Ohio, to join the fighting. Unable to convince his twin brother, Gob, to accompany him, Tomo finally sets out alone and is promptly killed by a bullet through the skull. His twin never recovers from this loss. In thrall to his grief, Gob grows up to become a doctor, dedicating himself to healing the war's wounded. And by night, he toils away at a more unlikely corrective: a time machine that will eradicate death and bring back all the lost soldiers. His sidekick in this project is none other than Whitman, who shares his desire to resurrect those millions of departed souls: "Their marvelous passion would go out from them in waves, transforming time, history, and destiny, unmurdering Lincoln, unfighting the war, unkilling all the six hundred thousand."

Gob's Grief is an ambitious and occasionally convoluted story, which remains true to the stubborn mysticism of thinkers like Whitman and Woodhull. Cutting back and forth between characters and historical moments, Adrian never pretends to retrospective detachment. Indeed, his novel will appeal to fans of John Dos Passos or E.L. Doctorow--writers who borrow from history but repay their debt in the form of fictional insight. --Ellen Williams

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