Monday, June 29, 2009

Good writing trumps everything

Over the weekend, I read a novel called Talking to the Dead: A Novel by Bonnie Grove. I'd been anticipating this book, partly because of one of those 6-degrees-of-separation circumstances, and partly because I follow Grove's info-packed blog. So I picked up this debut novel and snuggled into a corner of my love seat, preparing to indulge.

I was surprised as I began to read to find myself somewhat confused. Why? Because for reasons I still don't understand, I was expecting chick lit. Maybe I gave too much weight to the notion that it was "tender" & "quirky." Instead found a story that fell somewhere between "Regarding Henry" and "Sleeping With the Enemy." As I progressed further into the novel, I literally had to stop and reset my expectations. But it also helped me understand the maxim that "good writing trumps everything". In spite of my confusion, Grove's writing had drawn me into this story. And once I had my perspective back on track, Grove's writing shone as she led me through the trauma and discovery of a grieving woman.

So really, my review needs to begin here:

The novel begins with one of the best openings I have ever read:
"Kevin was dead and the people in my house wouldn't go home. They mingled after the funeral, eating sandwiches, drinking tea, and speaking in muffled tones. I didn't feel grateful for their presence. I felt exactly nothing. Funerals exist so we can close doors we'd rather leave open. But where did we get the idea that the best approach to facing death is to eat Bundt cake?"
So begins the story of Kate, a young widow, facing her future from an internal emptiness where the past months have imploded in her memory and left her with questions she is trying to answer. Grove deftly stays with her character, revealing Kate's story bit by bit as she pieces the past together through an odd assortment of characters, including Kate's dead husband, that are never what Kate has assumed they are. Grove just as expertly reveals that Kate is not everything we expect her to be either.

Grove manages to weave themes of betrayal, obsession (dare I say idolatry?), manipulation and human nature into a story of recovery and hope. Her light touch keeps it from being overwhelming and points instead to the heart of forgiveness on the path to wholeness. My only criticism, perhaps, in this book is that the romantic ending looks formulaic against the honest reality and occasional brutality of the rest of the story. But overall, it is beautifully crafted and will draw you in to Kate's journey through grief and back to life.

A review copy of this book was provided by The B&B Media Group.

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