A benign ghost story in which a young widow is consoled (and prodded) by the spirit of her late husband.
Willa Bennett’s husband, Ben, succumbed to a rare heart condition at the age of 36. Three years have passed, and Willa, a schoolteacher who lives with her 17-year-old son, Jamie, in suburban Maryland, hasn’t really moved on. What’s more, she worries that while wallowing in her own grief, she has failed to provide Jamie with the support he needs. In the interest of jump-starting her life, Willa decides to fix up and sell the family beach house in Ocean City, which happens to be where Ben died. She enlists her best friend, Kristin, to help out; Jamie eventually joins them, as does Kristin’s daughter, Kelsey. Ben shows up too, but in ghostly form, visible only to Willa. While assuring her of his undying love, he also tries to persuade her to carry on without him—even to the point of finding a new love. Harbison (If I Could Turn Back Time, 2016, etc.) alternates between Willa’s story and Jamie’s. She proves adept at plumbing the adolescent psyche: Jamie is an appealing, authentic character. Harbison’s writing, meanwhile, is relaxed and conversational, enlivened with the occasional pop-culture reference (“We had been a happy family…we were the Cleavers, the Petries, the Flintstones without the rocks”). The narrative feels a little padded—apart from Ben’s ghostly visitations, nothing much happens until the very end. By that time, the reader has a pretty good idea how things will play out. This is pathos light; a number of scenes—including Kristin’s walking in on Willa chatting with her deceased husband—are played for laughs.
Nothing unexpected or particularly original in this mild novel, but it’s a pleasant, sometimes-comforting read.