A guy sees a ghost. This leads to an evaluation of the supernatural in Lightman’s low-key fifth novel (Reunion, 2003, etc.).
When 42-year-old David Kurzweil loses his job at a bank, he goes to work at a mortuary. In the so-called slumber room, where relatives view their loved ones, David sees “a thing near a dead body. A vapor…It seemed alive. It had…intelligence. It looked at me.” Within seconds it’s gone. David is a regular guy, and we never doubt his honesty, though his account is generally greeted with skepticism. His boss Martin, the mortuary director, gently suggests he see a shrink. His story gets into the local paper, and David is visited by two emissaries from the Society for the Second World. They don’t seem like kooks, so David agrees to be the subject of an experiment which will test his openness to the nonmaterial world. The investigator, Dr. Tettlebeim, is pleased with the results, but David’s old friend Ronald, a university chemistry professor, thinks Tettlebeim’s claims of David’s special powers are absurd and should be denounced. David feels caught in the middle; he could do without the attention. After all, he does have a life of his own, though not much of one. It’s been eight years since his wife Bethany divorced him, but David’s lonely bachelor life has looked up since he started dating Ellen, a librarian, and his mortuary job, ghost aside, has proved surprisingly fulfilling. He enjoys working for the tender-hearted Martin, who has become a father figure (his own father died when he was eight). This should be fertile ground for teacher/physicist Lightman, best-known for the lightly worn erudition of Einstein’s Dreams (1993), and indeed he is scrupulously fair in presenting the arguments of the opposing camps. But the story never quite catches fire, and it ends with a transparently contrived death.
A weighty issue, but a wisp of a novel.