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Journey through a family’s grief 

It has been said that it is not the natural way of things for a parent to outlive a child. Though losing any loved one causes grief, the insurmountable grief of a parent losing a child is unimaginable and an ever-present worry in a parent’s heart. 

Louisville author Paul Griner delves into the aftermath of such loss following a school shooting in his fourth novel, The Book of Otto and Liam. Otto, a commercial artist, and his wife, May, an engineer, lead a happy life with their only son, Liam, until Liam is wounded by an angry teenage shooter who entered an elementary school and shot for 11 minutes. 

As Liam’s life hangs in the balance, readers are invited into Otto’s thoughts, bouncing back and forth from pre-tragedy to present, as he and May grapple with fear, survivor’s guilt, grief, and a relentless conspiracy theorist claiming the event was a hoax. 

As the hoaxers continue to spew their venom and become increasingly bold in their contact, the pressure takes its toll on Otto’s psyche. The stream-of-consciousness writing style reveals the thin thread by which Otto is hanging as his life continues to crumble and gives readers perspective on the long-term damage caused by such tragedy, a side of the story often not covered after the headlines become old news. 

Griner rips wide open a difficult and unusual novel topic, causing his readers to look and feel beyond the inadequate explanations and comforting platitudes offered to those experiencing tragedy. In a recent interview, Griner explains, “Since Columbine happened when my first child was just starting school, and since I often write about things that trouble me, I knew for a long time that the subject was one I’d probably wrestle with.” 

He also found himself troubled by the growing number of denialists who claim such events are government staged to gain support for gun control and knew they must be included in Otto’s story. 

Griner’s wish is for readers to find hope in Otto’s story, seeing that “… even in the midst of tragedy, we can find grace, strength, and empathy, by trying to forgive ourselves and others, by trying to find the best in people, here or departed, by refusing to give in to the quick but ephemeral satisfactions of anger and revenge.” 

The Book of Otto and Liam (Sarabande Books, $16.95) is available at major booksellers or online in print or ebook. Griner teaches writing and literature at the University of Louisville. Previous works include the novels Collectors, The German Woman and Second Life; and the story collections Follow Me, a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers choice, and Hurry Please I Want to Know, winner of the Kentucky Literary Award. 

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