Last week on my blog I introduced you to author Bonnie Grove. This week I’d like to tell you about one of her novels, a story titled Talking to the Dead.
The title fascinates me as much as the story that follows. Here’s a brief plot summary (no spoilers).
Kate Davis is shocked by the sudden and unexpected death of her husband, Kevin. They were married only five years when he died, and Kate’s grief quickly becomes debilitating. She hides in her house, haunted by the recurring voice of her departed husband. Kevin’s terse comments burst in intermittently and unexpectedly on Kate, gradually morphing from ordinary to unkind, even nasty, and Kate begins to question her sanity. There are huge holes in her memory of her life before Kevin’s death. All she can remember is his last words to her: “Don’t wait for me.”
As Kate’s memories begin to return in bits and pieces, her reactions to them initiate a series of events that becomes worse with each new remembrance. She discovers that everyone, including herself, has secrets.
As she reviews her memories, beginning with her marriage, issues pop up that she’s never admitted even to herself. She tries counseling, psychiatric help, group therapy, all with ridiculous or disastrous effects, but after one particular counseling session she comes across Jack, a “pastor of sorts” who invests himself in the lives of troubled youth. Kate finds understanding and acceptance with Jack that she’s never received from any of her friends or family, but how can she rid herself of Kevin’s voice, and does she want to?
This book was a surprise, nothing like I expected it to be. It grabbed me and led me down winding paths I didn’t anticipate.
Technically speaking, the book is expertly written. Characters are real, well-rounded, believable, identifiable, vivid. The main character, Kate Davis, tells us her story in first person past tense, which works very well in this type of story, then switches to first person present tense for her returning memories.
In spite of the gravity of the issues, the author maintains a light style as Kate responds to situations with wit and desperate humor. Example: (p. 149) “I was instructed to rate my fear on a scale of zero to ten. Zero meaning I was bounding into the room, whistling “Mack the Knife,” not a care in the world, and ten meaning I was crawling away on all fours, weeping and hyperventilating into a paper bag.”
Author Bonnie Grove displays an amazing capacity to entertain with her witty observances and descriptions. Example: (p. 93) “It didn’t take long before I spotted a house that could only belong to Maggie. It was painted a painful shade of red and sported jaundice green shutters. The combination gave the house an odd aura. Like being sick at Christmastime.”
The plot of this story is filled with unexpected turns and detours that take Kate from bad to worse. Much worse.
I would interpret the theme as something like learning to trust God when everyone fails us, when others give a warped view of him. It’s a story of faith in the midst of upheaval and misunderstanding, and ultimately of a God who proves himself able.
A fascinating psychological study in a realistic setting. I’ve read it three times now. I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for a good read.