“Book Review: Good Grief”
Reviewed by Joe Walters
A powerful novel about grief, pain, and finding the path forward
This grief is good. Author Nick Gregorio shines in his debut novel Good Grief, straight from the very first sentence: “Tony hasn’t been to work since he found his brother dead with a needle in his arm sitting cross-legged on a twin bed in their parents’ house.”
The novel follows Tony D’Angelo, a high school teacher clearly in the wrong profession, struggling with the loss of his older brother, and with his own realization that he never really liked him. Nate has been a problem for Tony his whole life: the beloved son, the popular one, the smart one, the one who always knew just how to make Tony look bad. Even amidst his addiction, Nate found a way to be his parents’ clear favorite, and when Nate dies, he soaks up the air in the room even more. So Tony is left to deal with his grieving parents. Alone. And surprise: he’s not too ready for that.
Even with a few truly questionable characteristics, Tony is an empathetic main character from the very first page. Despite Tony’s claims at strength and confidence, the reader sees a damaged man, drinking, smoking, hallucinating his younger self dressed in a Ninja Turtle costume.
His younger self (Mikey) plays a particularly interesting role in this Maudlin House novel. While he appears solely because of Tony’s psychological instabilities, we still really never want him to leave. Mikey provides lightness and relief in an otherwise hopeless and heavy situation, making for an incredible read. Cowabunga, dude.
Good Grief takes place entirely in-scene, making for natural transitions in the narrative and cinematic pacing throughout. Readers can easily walk beside Tony, smelling his smoke, wanting to lend a hand on the steering wheel when he might be a bit (or a lot) too drunk. We want to be there for him. We want to have faith in him. Trust him, even as he’s talking to his imaginary six-year-old self.
There are multiple opportunities in Good Grief for Gregorio to walk a slow line, to guide us with his funny and succinct voice through a plot that we care about, but he doesn’t give us that. He’d prefer to keep us guessing. Just when the reader believes that nothing will happen, that everything is safe, a change occurs. We should have trusted our instincts. Things are not really as we want them to be for Tony. But he’ll get there.
He’ll get there.