Have you ever read two books back to back and found they had similar themes? That happened to me recently when I read Laura Kasischke’s new book The Raising and Laura Brodie’s The Widow’s Season. (OK … now I realize the authors have the same first name. FREAKY!!!)
Anyway, when you read two similarly themed books back to back, chances are that one is going to suffer by comparison. In this case, I found The Widow’s Season much more satisfying than The Raising. Let’s find out why!
The Raising by Laura Kasischke
Publisher: Harper Perennial, March 2011
Where I Got It: from NetGalley
My Rating: 3 stars
The Basic Story: Set on a fictional Midwestern campus, the novel weaves a rather complicated tale about a sorority girl named Nicole Werner who was killed in a car accident and whether her ghost has come back to haunt the campus. The book follows several characters. First, we have Craig—a snotty rich boy who was driving the car when the fatal accident took place and Nicole’s boyfriend. Then we have Perry—Craig’s roommate—who grew up in the same small town as Nicole. We also meet Shelley, the first person on the scene of the accident. Finally, we meet Mira—a professor of anthropology whose specialty is death rituals. The novel tracks how each of these characters are affected by Nicole’s death and the strange circumstances surrounding it—resulting in life-changing consequences for each of them.
My Thoughts: Oh, I so wanted to love this book! I was a big fan of Kasischke’s previous dystopic novel, In A Perfect World, and was thrilled when I saw she had a new book. The premise sounded so promising too—a ghost story set on a college campus! (And how intriguing is that cover.) At the beginning, I was encouraged; Kasischke does a great job of setting the scene and getting us into the heads of the different characters. However, things started to fall apart for me. The biggest problem was that Kasischke seemed to have trouble committing to what kind of novel she was writing: is this a gothic tale with supernatural elements? a conspiracy thriller? a good old-fashioned ghost story? This indecision on the part of the author led to a less than satisfying conclusion. In fact, I was still puzzling things out at the end as Kasischke seemed to want to have her cake and eat it too. There are some good elements here, but they didn’t come together in a satisfying way for me. (In fact, I would go so far as to call the plot as I understood it ridiculously ludicrous and unbelievable.) I ended up being very disappointed and can’t really recommend this book. This saddens me because I think Kasischke is a talented writer and—if she had fully committed herself one way or another—she could have had a wonderful book on her hands. (However, I would recommend In A Perfect World if you’d like to try a grown-up’s version of a dystopic book instead of a YA version.)
The Widow’s Season by Laura Brodie
Publisher: Berkley Books, 2009
Where I Got It: Paperback Swap
My Rating: 4 stars
The Basic Story: The opening line of the novel sets the scene perfectly: “Sarah McConnell’s husband had been dead three months when she saw him in the grocery story.” Right away, we are thrust into Sarah’s confusing world—where her grief and mourning play tricks on her mind. When she confesses her “vision” at a widow’s group, she finds support and empathy. After all, it is normal to “see” your loved ones when the loss is fresh and new. (I remember “seeing” my dad everywhere after he died. I’d glimpse a man with his build across the room and it would take my breath away. Of course, they always turned around and the illusion would be broken.) Complicating Sarah’s loss is that her husband David’s body was never recovered after his kayak was swept away in a flash flood. As Sarah attempts to create a life without David, she is forced to confront the realities of their marriage and some of her long-buried feelings. And as she continues to sense and feel David’s presence, she begins to wonder if the fact that David’s body was never found means something different after all.
My Thoughts: Oooohhh…this was so good! It had everything a good ghost story should—unease, dread, longing, hope, uncertainty and (finally) closure. Brodie does such a brilliant job of keeping you guessing about what is actually happening that you’ll be captivated until the very last page. I thought Sarah’s journey felt authentic and fully lived in. Sarah realizes that her marriage to David was flawed and possibly doomed. Their inability to have a child had created a wedge between them, and Sarah is forced to confront the reality that she wasn’t the best wife. Complicating things further is the presence of Nate—David’s younger and very handsome brother. Although Sarah doesn’t want to admit it, she’s always felt attracted to Nate and now she has the opportunity to pursue that feeling. Yet guilt and David’s presence make things tricky. I got very involved in Sarah’s story—and found myself conflicted about where I was hoping it would go. In the end, I think Brodie handled things fabulously and made all the right choices. If you’re looking for an emotionally involving novel that deals intelligently with the issues of grief, mourning, marriage and love, this would be an excellent choice. Highly recommended!
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