Wednesday, July 22, 2009

book review: Talking to the Dead by Bonnie Grove

Title: Talking to the Dead
Author: Bonnie Grove
Publisher: David C. Cook Publishing (May 2009), Paperback, 384 pages.
ISBN-10: 1434766411

Talking to the Dead, a debut novel by Bonnie Grove, begins on the day of Kevin’s funeral, the husband of Kate whose memory now has big holes in it and who is so devastated and shattered that in the days following she doesn’t eat, shower, change her clothes and for sure doesn’t go into the bedroom they shared.

That’s because from the night after the funeral, Kevin talks to her. His disembodied voice comes at any old time. It’s frightening. It’s wonderful. Until one day Kevin’s tone changes and the whole thing becomes just plain terrifying. Is she psychic, or crazy? She’d better go for help.

Help presents itself in a variety of guises – a spiritual counselor, a psychiatrist, a miracle advertising evangelist, a therapy group with a mix of people as colorful, zany and troubled as Kate herself, and a very human pastor whose flock is a ragtag bunch of youth who meet for pickup basketball.

The characters and plot were sparked, by Groves’ work in the field of psychology: “In part, the story came out of my experiences as a counselor, sitting with people who were attempting to articulate their pain and distress,” she writes on her Fiction Matters blog. “It occurred to me that many of the things these people were doing (the behaviors I saw) were often an attempt to accomplish something very different than what they were doing – in other words, behavior didn’t match intentions. It caused me to truly see why Jesus commanded us not to judge others. We simply don’t know what’s going on under the surface.”

The intriguing plot is served well by Grove’s story telling style – a slow titillation of revelations as Kate gradually remembers more and more. Groves’ writing is also just plain pleasurable to read as it is by turns descriptive, funny, attentive to details, and always ringing true:

“It was as if my desolation had multiplied the power of gravity. I was stuck….p. 24.

“My mind, luminously awake, sewed blindfolds of anger and forged a strong rope of despair” p. 24.

“Maggie spoke in a loud and careful manner one would use if addressing the UN. Every word evenly parceled out” p. 37.

Besides Kate and the ghostly Kevin, the book is peopled by a multitude – Kate’s mom and her sister Heather, the decisive and colorful Maggie, Dr. Alexander the toupeed psychiatrist, high school friend Blair, the support group members, Jack the gym pastor and more. All come to life – many with comedic features – under Groves’ skillful hands.

While on the surface the book is about grieving the death of a spouse, it’s also about betrayal, disappointment, loyalty, friendship, the fragility and resilience of the human psyche, and essentially about choosing the right foundation for one’s hopes. The story illustrates in Three-D God’s way of invading even the most hurtful situations with the warmth and sweetness of grace. “That is the story I wanted to tell,” says Grove. “God in the midst of our messy lives."

This summer you, your beach bag and this chubby book need each other. But don’t forget the sunscreen – for under Groves’ spell, you may well forget to turn!

Sample chapter of Talking to the Dead


Joanna Mallory said...

Strong, thoughful and thorough review, Violet -- not that I expected anything less. Thanks for sharing those great lines from the novel. And they're only a sample.

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