The Rules of Inheritance

The Rules of Inheritance

The Rules of InheritanceThe Rules of Inheritance

Claire Bidwell Smith



A powerful and searingly honest memoir about a young woman who loses her family but finds herself in the process.

In this astonishing debut, Claire Bidwell Smith, an only child, is just fourteen years old when both of her charismatic parents are diagnosed with cancer. What follows is a coming-of-age story that is both heartbreaking and exhilarating. As Claire hurtles towards loss she throws herself at anything she thinks might help her cope with the weight of this harsh reality: boys, alcohol, traveling, and the anonymity of cities like New York and Los Angeles. By the time she is twenty-five years old they are both gone and Claire is very much alone in the world.

Claire’s story is less of a tragic tale and more of a remarkable lesson on how to overcome some of life’s greatest hardships. Written with suspense and style, and bursting with love and adventure, The Rules of Inheritance vividly captures the deep grief and surprising light of a young woman forging ahead on a journey of loss that humbled, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.


“Forget everything you think you know about grief. Smith’s memoir is the most honest book I’ve ever read about how loss unmoors, challenges and changes you, written in prose so exquisite it could be poetry. Dazzlingly brave and absolutely true.” —Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You

“Gorgeously written, compulsively readable, and heartbreakingly true, The Rules of Inheritance is a small masterpiece of honesty. Anyone who’s lost a parent will find themselves in this story. I couldn’t stop reading it, and was sorry when it had to end.” —Hope Edelman, author of Motherless Daughters



The Guardian

When Claire Bidwell Smith was 14, both her parents were diagnosed with cancer. Her mother died when she was 18, her father when she was 25. This direct and unflinching memoir is Claire’s account of how she coped (or didn’t cope): alcohol, tattoos, escapist travel, dark romantic relationships, danger. And a lot of loneliness.

Structured according to Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – Bidwell-Smith tells her story according to emotions rather than time. The narrative is thus non-linear, dotting from carefree college days in Vermont far away from her parents’ home, and an internship in partying for the LA office of “Big Fancy Magazine” to abortion operation rooms and diving with sharks in the Philippines.

As well, there is the long-term relationship with a jealous man accused of stabbing his sister to death (“I’ll never again be able to shake the tiny seed of doubt about his innocence”). Throughout these episodes her parents feature, even when no longer alive; the story of her dad sweeping her mother off her feet is echoed when Claire marries her husband Greg in the Cape Cod church where her parents said their vows.

Pared down prose makes this an intense and affecting little book, even if the happy-ever-after ending is somewhat pat. The storyline – damaged young woman settles for domestic bliss – is classic Hollywood material, and the other happy ending for the author is that Oscar-winning Jennifer Lawrence has bought the movie rights.