Polman (Mantis Religiosa, 2016 etc.) offers a novel about a grieving widower and his friends.
At the outset of this story, Corey Holt’s wife, Mary, dies in an auto accident. The setting quickly flashes forward from her hospital room to a scene in Corey’s garage a couple of weeks later. Of course, he’s bereft—much more than he even realizes. The man needs help, and help eventually comes in the form of his Uncle Arlen, Sarah Weatherford (a woman in his wood-carving class who becomes his counselor), and an imaginary friend in the form of Bill, a dog who shows up with three canine pals. Still, Corey initially spends most of his time just sleeping or eating, showing classic symptoms of depression. Left with a comfortable financial cushion, thanks to Mary’s life insurance, he’s free to plot a new future, but it’s a painfully slow process for him. The book mainly uses a third-person point of view, but this shifts as it includes extracts from Corey’s journal, Sarah’s therapy reports, and Mary’s letters, which makes for an effective narrative strategy. Slowly, and with the help of these friends, Corey begins to come around and re-enter the world. Readers familiar with self-help books will recognize the stages of the protagonist’s grief as Corey is cajoled into taking the aforementioned wood-carving class, reluctantly adopts a dog, and pursues a romance. The title is fitting, as a key is often used as a metaphor in novels about grieving—but not in this one; instead, it’s part of a nice surprise at the end of the story. The book is engagingly written and often humorous, as when Corey, on Sarah’s orders, interacts with strangers in the supermarket. Readers will like Corey, and they may even recognize aspects of the character within themselves, even if they sometimes come close to losing patience with his finickiness and compulsive habits. His awkward silences, for example, don’t make him the kind of guy that you’d want to have a beer with—but to change him would change the whole point of the book.
A strangely appealing story with a frustrating but relatable protagonist.