This month the Christian Fiction Review Blog tours TALKING TO THE DEAD, by Bonnie Grove. I have to say this has been one of the most difficult books to review, but not because it is bad and certainly not because it is poorly written. TALKING TO THE DEAD is both interesting and written well. It's just that, well, how do you write a review about a book that has so much going on, so many changes throughout the book and not give away the story? Here's the blurb she has on her site about TALKING TO THE DEAD:
Twenty-something Kate Davis can’t seem to get this grieving widow thing right. She’s supposed to put on a brave face and get on with her life, right? Instead she’s camped out on her living room floor, unwashed, unkempt, and unable to sleep—because her husband Kevin keeps talking to her.
Is she losing her mind?
Kate’s attempts to find the source of the voice she hears are both humorous and humiliating, as she turns first to an “eclectically spiritual” counselor, then a shrink with a bad toupee, a mean-spirited exorcist, and finally group therapy. There she meets Jack, the warmhearted, unconventional pastor of a ramshackle church, and at last the voice subsides. But when she stumbles upon a secret Kevin was keeping, Kate’s fragile hold on the present threatens to implode under the weight of the past … and Kevin begins to shout.
Will the voice ever stop? Kate must confront her grief to find the grace to go on, in this tender, quirky story about second chances.That's what Bonnie writes about her book, so I guess if I stay within these parameters I'll be safe.
The book starts out with Kate Davis overseeing a funeral held in her home, wondering why all these people bothered to show up, and bother her like this. Her mom holds her tongue, understanding that newly widowed women don't need or want the chit-chat of others. When everyone leaves she can't bring herself to go up the stairs to where she shared her bed with her late husband, Kevin. To make matters worse Kevin starts prattling on about things that she's doing, when she least expects him to. Well, who would expect a dead person to be speaking in the first place? Yet on top of all her grief now she has to put up with a voice she loves, and yet can't deal with. I mean he's dead. Since when do dead people start talking to others? Weeks pass and she's still living on the sofa in the living room. She rarely goes upstairs for anything anymore. This dead husband of hers is driving her nuts. So she seeks out help. It's really weird where people will look for help when they are hurting. Either it's in a place that doesn't care about her, not really, or in a place that cares about her, at least superficially, and offers the most ridiculous advice. It's like while she can hear Kevin speaking to her, all these people who say they can help her don't really hear her.
The last straw is group therapy, where everyone seems to have their own agenda that has little to do with getting down to the problem. She shrinks into the background as much as possible, actually made more possible by the leader of the group with her seemingly arrogant need to show everyone how well she's been constructed. Kate's sure she'll never go back, that is until she runs into Jack, after the therapy session, in the gym down the hall from where the group meets. He's kind and suggests she join them for some basketball. She promises to do so another time, and realizes that this guy, Jack, is a pastor of a church. This gets her thinking in different directions.
As Kevin's voice becomes more intolerable, and at one point he starts yelling at her, Kate is plunged into a world of depression that goes beyond just the sorrow of losing a loved one. A secret from Kevin's past unravels her life, stripping her of almost every good memory she's had, and practically everyone she's known...except for Jack. He won't go away, and she doesn't have the strength to tell him to, but she's basically spent her time burning bridges. Past friends aren't allowed in her life any more. But Jack won't quit. In him she finds the one answer that has eluded her all this time. It isn't Jack himself, but something that he has, that she wishes to have that pulls her from the abyss.
If you can read this book and truthfully say it isn't well-written and that this plot doesn't make you wonder what's around the next bend then you are one special person. I am not a big fan of romances myself. I'm a mystery writer. As such I know you have to keep the reader on their toes. With mysteries you more or less expect the twists and turns. With romances you more or less expect a guy and a girl to find each other and by the end find "eternal bliss", all of which makes me want to vomit. Bonnie Grove, on the other hand, handles her romance like I would a mystery. You never know what's around the next bend. You're never really sure how things are going to work out (although you get several huge hints). I think of all the people I identified with in this book it would have to be Blair. Keep your eye on him. Although not really central to the story there are things about him that make the grief all that much more real, and radiating from Kate to others.
The Bible teaches us to "Mourn with those who mourn, weep with those who weep, and to rejoice with those who rejoice." Unfortunately I think most of us skip over the first part of that verse and go right to the last part. We want to rejoice with others who rejoice, but we don't want to be around those who are hurting, because it makes us hurt too. This is the challenge, as I see it, of Bonnie's work, to go to those who are hurting, to let yourself be hurt along with them so that together you can help each other heal. In his process lies some wonderful truths that lie about like forgotten gemstones. Unless we are willing to travel that path of mourning with those we love who are hurting, we will never find those gemstones, simply because they can only be found on a path that leads through a dark valley, and they can only be found when that path is walked by others of their own accord to help people who are in that valley already. All in all TALKING TO THE DEAD, by Bonnie Grove is more than just another novel, it's a challenge to live life the way God intends us to live it.
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