Two near-death experiences serve as bookends for this initially beguiling second novel about the interactions of the living, the dead, and the in-between.
For 15-year-old Charlie St. Cloud and his kid brother Sam, diehard Red Sox fans, Marblehead is the perfect hometown: neighborly and only 30 minutes from Boston’s Fenway Park. When Charlie decides to “borrow” a neighbor’s car to catch a night game, everything works out fine until he smashes into a tractor-trailer. A paramedic resuscitates him, but can’t save Sam. What to do? The devoted Charlie has promised Sam he’ll always be there for him. He’s able to make good on his word when Sam shows up in the cemetery. A ritual begins: every sundown for the next 13 years, Charlie and Sam meet to play ball. To keep their rendezvous, Charlie becomes the cemetery caretaker and sacrifices career opportunities, while Sam sacrifices his move to the next level of the spirit world. This could be unbearably sappy, but it’s not; Sherwood grounds these curious trysts in small-town realities. Eventually a complication arrives: Tess Carroll, expert sailor, preparing for a solo round-the-world race. She runs into Charlie at the cemetery, and they both see stars. Things get serious fast. Should Charlie put Tess before Sam? How much do the living owe the dead? It’s a good set-up, but Sherwood ruins it by misdirecting the reader. It turns out Tess herself may be dead. Her sloop is missing, and search-and-rescue missions are underway. Regardless, Tess and Charlie proceed to have sex in an awkward, unsettling scene that borders on necrophilia. Sherwood further fuzzes up the picture by seeming to change the rules that govern human/spirit relations in the middle of the game.
A disappointing successor to The Man Who Ate the 747 (2000). There’s a big audience out there for imaginative treatments of the afterlife (look at The Lovely Bones), provided the author keeps control of the material, which is not the case here.