Talking to the Dead, a debut novel by Bonnie Grove, begins on the day of Kevin Davis's funeral. Kevin was the husband of Kate whose memory now has big holes in it. In fact she's 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 terrifying. Is she psychic, or crazy?
Help presents itself in a variety of guises -- a spiritual counselor, a psychiatrist, an evangelist who advertises miracles, 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 Grove's 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. Grove's writing is also just plain pleasurable to read as it is by turns descriptive, funny, attentive to details, but always ringing true.
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 Grove's spell, you may well forget to turn!