A novel explores one man’s special relationship with death and the afterlife.
Gordy (Tangled Woods and Dark Waters, 2017) presents a peculiar Washington, D.C.–based doctor by the name of Lukas Vangelis. Luke is a hospice care physician who is sometimes able to communicate with people who are no longer living. The first such exchange readers observe is a “voice-disturbance” from Luke’s dead mother, Eleni. It is from Eleni that Luke inherited his power to connect with the “world of the unquiet dead.” Eleni now informs Luke that he will need to find someone to follow in his footsteps. She also tells him that the road ahead will be challenging. Much of his journey will involve a young woman named Katie Lyle. Katie seems to have it all: a kind husband, a lovely home in Florida, and a bright boy named Timmy. But she learns that it may all be taken away: Katie is diagnosed with cancer. She soon embarks on her own grueling odyssey. As Luke specializes in hospice care and Katie faces the sobering idea of an early death, it is apparent that their paths will eventually converge. Meanwhile, readers are also given glimpses of Luke’s background, the many relatives concerned about Katie, and the health care professionals involved in treating her illness. With so many characters wandering through the story, it can be tough to keep track of who is who. Flat statements do not help distinguish the players; at one point, a character asks, “Isn’t the breeze wonderful?” Nevertheless, though the tale can get overcrowded with relatively minor figures, Katie’s trials are extremely plausible. How does one go from perfectly healthy to a troubling diagnosis and the encroaching fear that the battle may be unwinnable? Her situation is treated with a realism that eschews melodrama. Even if, say, Luke’s family history can be more convoluted than is necessary (never mind the details about Katie’s extended family and the marriage of one of Luke’s employees), the book generates a strong sense of empathy.
While overly complex in places, this tale offers a nuanced look at death.