A surreal love story about the courtship between a living woman and a dead man.
Rachel is a dark-haired, red-lipped reference librarian living in Brooklyn for whom romance, so far, has been a general disappointment. “I have fallen in love with my own daydreams,” she explains, “and then they have gone out into the world and returned to me embodied as men.” But the men disappoint, in the end. “It was not that the men themselves were realer than the daydream,” she says, but rather that the men were too weak to “withstand the daydream’s reality.” And then, at the bus stop, she sees Thomas and becomes fascinated by this electric, sad-seeming man. He notices her, too, drawn to her perpetual air of alert discomfort, “like a squirrel, or some other kind of nervous prey,” and one Saturday, she follows him onto his bus instead of her own and their courtship begins. (“Men like to believe that they initiate things, but often they only initiate when the fruit is very low-hanging,” she observes, in one of the book’s many delightfully blunt and correct observations.) The problem, of course, is that Thomas is dead. But because of an “institutional error”—the institution being death—he is “insufficiently dead” and so must be temporarily “re-manifested,” returned to a body that “exactly resembles” his own until “the Office” is able to “complete the procedures necessary to process” his arrival. They have issued a set of instructions designed to help him navigate this new phase of his not-quite-existence, all designed to prevent him from incurring regrets. “Sexual contact” is not advised in this state; it is “the most efficient way to incur regrets.” And also, his body is beginning to dissolve. It is a plot that could be—that should be—unbearably twee, oppressively quirky, in love with its own melancholy. Instead, Bonnaffons’ (The Wrong Heaven, 2018) first full-length novel is a rare pleasure: a philosophical rom-com too weird, too bodily, too precise, too fun to get bogged down in trembling sentiment.
Deep and deeply funny.