In Boody’s supernatural debut, Thomas Jefferson returns from the dead to the 21st century.
Jack Arrowsmith recently lost his only son in a car accident and his wife to cancer. He yearns to reconnect with them in some way, so he returns to the place that holds his happiest family memories: Monticello. Thomas Jefferson lived and died at this self-designed Virginia estate, but his spirit never left, as Jack soon discovers. The former president appears to the ex-history teacher, inexplicably in corporeal form and still in every way the 18th-century statesman. Once Jack realizes that this is no reenactor, he contacts his son’s former girlfriend, Rachel, and insists she share this supernatural experience with him. The three form an unlikely bond as they tour America, introducing Jefferson to modernity, the evolution of race relations and the history he never knew. When Rachel and Jefferson become romantically involved, Jack realizes that their connection was forged more than 200 years ago: Jefferson has returned to resolve his past with Sally Hemings, the slave and lover who lives on in Rachel. Boody has written a wonderfully strange “what-if” story that demands a willing suspension of disbelief. However, he has tempered the fantastical elements of supernatural fiction so that most of the novel reads true. It’s not hard to imagine an adventure with the dead president; a ghost impregnating a living being, however, tests an already tenuous line. Yet Boody’s writing is so good, it’s easy to overlook this awkward bump. The author gives Jefferson a wholly authentic voice, with genuine dialogue that bears the stamp of a bygone era. Whatever the reader’s opinion of the third U.S. president, this Jefferson is delightfully quirky, flawed yet sympathetic and fascinating. Jack is a likable, reliable liaison between the past and present, but Rachel’s personality seems trapped in time. She is introduced as a modern thinker, yet she succumbs to a servant’s sensibilities to satisfy Jefferson; it’s unnerving to watch a once-outspoken woman lose sight of herself as she appeals to social conventions that no longer exist. Overall, though, Boody’s novel cleverly introduces history to today’s technology, politics and economy.
An engrossing, haunting story about making up for lost time.