Wednesday, November 4, 2009

TALKING TO THE DEAD--Ghosts in a Christian Book?

My first thoughts when I started reading Talking to the Dead were, "What kind of Christian book is this? Christians don't believe in ghosts, other than the Holy Ghost." In other words, I was skeptical at best as I tackled the story.

Happily, it soon became apparent that Bonnie Grove wasn't writing a script for Ghost Whisperer. It does get a little creepy for a while, though, and I don't want to spoil the story by saying too much. Actually, there isn't ever a full explanation of the phenomenon of Kate hearing her dead husband talking to her.

Whoa--I guess I'm getting ahead of myself here, jumping right into the middle of the story. It seems that Kevin Davis, a young, upwardly mobile bank employee, has died quite suddenly while away from home. He was already dead and in the hospital before his wife, Kate, was even notified. The devoted wife was understandably in shock and stayed there for days. Her mother, sister, and Kevin's best friend Blair all stepped in to take care of the arrangements while Kate remained in a zombie-like state. It was too much to register; how could her husband of only seven years be gone like that?

The first time Kate hears Kevin talking to her is that night after the funeral. She was upstairs in the bedroom, and it freaked her out enough that she didn't go back upstairs for several days. Instead, she camped out on the living room floor, more or less in a fetal position. She wasn't coping with life after his death well at all, but she also wasn't letting others help her out. Her mother, who had just been widowed a few months earlier, brought over a bunch of books that had helped her get through her grief, but Kate just pushed them aside. When her sister Heather tried to clean up the dishes for her, she woke up a bit from her catatonic state and screamed at Heather to go away and leave her alone. It's hard to help someone who refuses to be helped, but as days passed this way, everyone become increasingly alarmed. Enter eccentric Maggie, an older lady, an acquaintance of Kate's mother, who has a pushy way of putting her two cents' worth in. By this time, though, Kate was starting to realize she might be grieving in an unhealthy way, and after mulling it over a bit, calls Maggie back to get the list of counselors from her. Slowly, Kate begins a journey through her grief, trying to find her sanity, but some of the counselors she runs into make it worse. All the while, Kevin pops up unexpectedly talking to her about things, even yelling at her, which was uncharacteristic. Of course, his appearances and conversations, things she doesn't dare tell anyone else, eventually convince Kate that she must be losing her mind. But it seems so real! And why does he tell her things she wouldn't otherwise know, like the location of his important papers, if it isn't real?

Kate spends a lot of time reminiscing-- her wedding, an anniversary, different moments of life with Kevin. It appears that they were madly in love, one of those nearly perfect couples. And yet...before too long there is a little crack developing. Something was amiss, but what? I don't want to give away any clues before you read it for yourselves, but Kevin had some secrets. And Kate had lost memories of the most recent times--she didn't remember the last time she saw Kevin alive--which slowly come back to her in flashes.

Oh, by the way, neither Kate nor her mother know anything about God. He hasn't come into the picture at all, and when Kate first thinks about Him, it's in a negative way: if there is a God, how could He let such horrible things happen? She even talks to a famous preacher called a 'miracle man' who makes her feel worse than ever. Forget this angry God. Then, quite by accident, she meets a really unconventional preacher while he's playing basketball with some young punks. Little by little, he introduces her to the love of God and the idea of a God who actually cares about her. This 'chance' meeting takes Kate in a new direction, one he didn't even know was there.

Talking to the Dead is a powerful piece of writing. Even the style changes as Kate herself changes: short, staccato sentence and fragments in the beginning emphasize the grief and shock that Kate undergoes. It's hard to breath or feel, and those of us who have known grief can identify. As her story unfolds and she seeks help, however, the style become more fluid and flowing. It's very much psychological suspense, but that doesn't exclude action. In fact, Kate's actions get pretty out-of-control before it's all over--it isn't a case of total recovery and peace once she hears about a loving God. I found myself surprised more than once by the events whenever Kate turned a corner. For me, the most powerful thing was the expression of how grief plays out with different people. I'll write more about that tomorrow. Mrs. Grove also skillfully dropped new hints to the 'whole' story little by little as the tale grew. As it turned out, there was so much more going on than just tragic death and widowhood. The writing evoked lots of different emotions for me, even made me laugh a little bit with the unsinkable Maggie.

The only thing that disappointed me, really, was that I didn't see any mention of Jesus. The love of God is key, but the sacrificial love doesn't enter the picture, unless I missed it. However, not every book written from a Christian worldview has to go through the entire plan of salvation, so I'm not going to dwell on this. It leads in that direction, and it is obvious that God's love was a crucial missing ingredient in Kate' life.

Overall, I can truly recommend Talking to the Dead. It is most definitely an adult book although older teens would also enjoy it. I tend to think of it as a suspense story, although it is also the story of a romance and much, much more. The intensity builds in such a way that the reader doesn't want to put it down until reaching the end. It isn't a romance novel, although that's a part of it, so I guess I'd have to recommend it for a general audience.


Bonnie Grove started writing when her parents bought a manual typewriter, and she hasn’t stopped since. Trained in Christian Counseling (Emmanuel Bible College, Kitchener, ON), and secular psychology (University of Alberta), she developed and wrote social programs for families at risk while landing articles and stories in anthologies. She is the author of Working Your Best You: Discovering and Developing the Strengths God Gave You; Talking to the Dead is her first novel. Grove and her pastor husband, Steve, have two children; they live in Saskatchewan.

You can learn more about her at her website, ( I love the subtitle: "Life is messy. God is love.")

Purchase Talking to the Dead at
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Laura Davis said...

Wonderful review Cathi. It's interesting that you mentioned the lack of Jesus' name. I have heard that comment before. Nevertheless, it was a powerful book and took me through a gamut of emotions. I wish I could write like that!

Christy--Southern Sassy Girl said...

Cathi, what an excellent review! I didn't realize it until you mentioned it, but you hit the nail on the head with how the story progressed regarding Kate's initial sharp, staccato thoughts that moved forward into a very flowing story. I absolutely loved it!

Steve G said...

Ummm... Saul used a witch to call up Samuel. Something pretty supernatural about that. Didn't God forbid that whole pursuit? Methinks maybe it was forbidden because it was possible.

She wasn't freaked out about the voice when it was upstairs (and it was Blair at that point, though she sleepily thought it was Kevin), but downstairs when she was awake.

Having said that, this book is based on the Biblical book of Ruth. It seems some people's view of evangelism is to throw Jesus at them. Jesus said it is to throw love at them. Jesus works through our love (Jack - Boaz). Kate is being drawn by God throughout this book, and it is a wonderful presence He gives in the midst of her grief.

And don't be afraid of a broken brain. There is room for medical science in there, just like a broken leg. I have noticed a few people commenting on that, which really doesn't deal with a book review. Don't you believe a non-Christian would do that, pursue things like that? How many of your "Jesus" books wrap life up in a nice bow that is just not played out in most people's realities? This is not a Christian Romance - it is contemporary fiction I would feel comfortable loaning to my non-Christian friends and be pretty sure they would enjoy it (while I was before the Throne on their behalf).

I think Bonnie is finding a wonderful balance of good read and accessible faith. She says's on her website, "Life is messy. God is love." This book nails it.

cathikin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cathikin said...

Steve, I think I did a poor job of explaining my thoughts, judging from your comments. First, I am not a fan of Christian romance books. Or even CBA books for the most part, although I review some of them. I like stuff that is outside the box and I dislike putting God in a box. Although my tastes are eclectic, I gravitate to speculative fiction. I felt like I should mention my wonder about no mention of Jesus just because I did wonder, but that is a very small part of the review.

Afraid of a broken brain? I had hoped to give the opposite impression. Hopefully some of the other blogs were clearer. I feel like MY brain is broken half of the time. Truth is, even as a Christian I identify with a lot of Kate's feelings.

I guess I have to re-read part of the book. So why didn't Kate want to go back upstairs, not even to get her clothes?

I've always wanted to discuss the thing about Saul and the witch withy a pastor but never have. I always figured that it was really a demon, just as I have always figured demons were involved in seances and such. I was really just trying to mske a catchy opener. I most definitely believe there are evil spirits, and I don't think that was what was going on here (I may be spoiling the mystery a bit, though, for those who haven't read it yet.)

November 11, 2009 7:06 PM

Steve G said...

I was trying to speak to your disappointment, and maybe am a bit hung up on that (and I shouldn't be). It has been mentioned by another on this blog tour. I understand salvation as both a process and a crisis moment. A book like Talking to the Dead is something that can be used in an ongoing dialog with a non-Christian. It is fun to read, but there is a search that Kate is on that goes in the right direction. Some people have said the end is a little "too pat", but we could say that about every answered prayer in our own lives. God does lead and guide, and is interested in our mental and social health. Is Kate ready to hear the Gospel in Chapter 1, in chapter 6? If Kate showed up in our church in Chapter 8, what would we do? What would we say? Though others think that is exactly what she needs, I think she needs love, caring, space and time. To throw Jesus at her too soon is very close to us doing it in our own strength. It is God who saves, not a just a certain set of words in a prayer. Yes, Jesus is the answer, but we are called to feed the hungry and visit the jailed, and clothe the naked, and give a cup of water to a thirsty stranger. That speaks volumes more than saying out of context and out of touch of her past, "Pray to accept Jesus you sinner." We may not mean to say it like that, but I think that is how it comes across. What do you think?

Have you read Kathy Tyers? She has done a couple Star Wars books and other Sci Fi (Shivers). She is also a Christian, but does not do CBA stuff that I know of.

Kate sleeps the first night upstairs. The next night she just looks up the stairs several times - I think it is the grief and the loneliness that prevents her from going up (page 24); almost as if going up would prove Kevin is dead. It is several weeks before she goes up - after Maggie's first visit, to have a shower.

One of the biggest things I got out of this book is how little we know about what a person may be going through. We are quick to judge as a church, when we should just be trying to be agents of grace. There goes an alcoholic. Have we tried to understand what drove him/her down that path, or just written him/her off as unreachable? What did our actions in regards to that person say?