Berkley Books ($14.00)
Sarah McConnell’s husband is dead. Or is he? That’s his ghost she keeps seeing, isn’t it? No, it’s him, lying low because he wants a fresh start. Or is it?
Through a masterful balancing act, debut novelist Laura Brodie manages to keep readers in suspense until the final pages. It is literally a book you might not be able to put down.
David McConnell, a doctor, is lost in a kayaking accident on a raging river, presumed dead. His wife, Sarah, must finally give up hope that he’ll be found alive, and she moves on. She considers what to do with the house and David’s clothes, until she sees her husband in the grocery store a few weeks after the accident. As she tries to deal with this mystery, we discover that Sarah and David’s marriage had been rocky, thus complicating the grief she feels at his loss. He was controlling and she felt unfulfilled. If he had lived, it isn’t clear that their marriage would have survived. Further complicating her grief is David’s brother, Nate, a handsome stockbroker with whom Sarah has shared a mutual attraction for years. With David gone, is there any reason to ignore the feelings they have for each other?
While Sarah had been having doubts about her marriage, David also wondered where things went wrong. A dedicated physician, he was also passionate about painting, and the couple’s cabin in the woods, where they frequently meet, had become his refuge and studio. His accident changes him, and the experience has prepared him to leave his medical practice behind and pursue his passion. But Sarah isn’t sure she’s willing to follow where he wants to take her.
This is a finely crafted romantic ghost story that reminded me of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. While not as detailed or as intricately choreographed as that book, The Widow’s Season does neatly blend a star-crossed love story with a suggestion of the supernatural. And as with Niffenegger’s novel, the prose here is often lyrical. Especially appealing are the descriptions of the couple’s cabin and surrounding woods.
“Above them, dozens of starlings rose en masse from a sycamore. They moved like a cloud of locusts, zigzagging south from tree to tree. She watched their swerving progress until they disappeared from view, then turned her eyes to the water, where a beaver’s nose twitched just above the surface. He circled and submerged, reminding her of the last divers she had seen in this river. Another minute passed and the beaver reemerged and slid onto a rock, poised erect and glistening.”
The reader may or may not be surprised by the book’s ending, but that’s not really the point. The nagging uncertainty provides satisfying tension, but the real pleasure in reading this book is in experiencing with Sarah the complex emotions that accompany real loss. She’s a multidimensional character with whom it is hard not to empathize. That's what drew me in.