I saw author Jasper Fforde speak recently and he talked about how he sometimes gave himself "narrative dares." That means he would come up with an unlikely situation and try to write a story explaining how it came to be. After reading the two books reviewed below, I felt that the authors had been given the same dare but had come up with very different explanations. The dare is this: Write a book where it's possible to talk to people who have died. Read on to find out how two authors dealing with the same scenario came up with a comedy and a tragedy.
Goodbye for Now
By Laurie Frankel
Sam works for an online dating company, but so far the service hasn't worked for him. Tired of the traditional online dating scene, he writes a new program that matches each customer with the perfect person. He's thrilled when it matches him with co-worker Meredith. He's less thrilled when he loses his job because his program is so good it's making the company lose money. Still, he has a great girlfriend and a new lease on life. That is until Meredith's grandmother dies and she gets depressed. Very depressed. Sam tries to help her by writing a new computer program that takes a person's e-mail history, text messages, and video chats to create a virtual simulation of the dead person. Meredith can talk to her grandmother again, and she thinks other people would jump at the chance to do the same thing with their loved ones. Soon they're running a successful business helping people commune with the dead, but things start to get complicated fast. Though this book is fast-paced and funny, it doesn't shy away from the moral and ethical dilemmas that pop up when the dead become part of the chain of supply and demand. When tragedy strikes again, Sam and Meredith have to rethink everything.
The Broken Ones
By Stephen M. Irwin
This is a detective story set in a semi-post-apocalyptic Australia. By which I mean that most people are still alive, they're just having a really bad time. Three years before the book begins there was an event called 'Gray Wednesday.' On that day the Earth's magnetic poles reversed, which threw travel and communication into complete disarray, crippling economies worldwide and bringing much of society to a halt. To add to the confusion, on that very same day everyone got a ghost. Yes, a ghost. The ghost can only be seen by the person being haunted but everyone has one. The ghosts don't talk, they just follow people around and stare. Which is creepy. And then there are all the murders. Did I mention this was in the horror section? Detective Oscar Mariani is despised by much of the department, but he knows that there's corruption going on and he means to stop it. He refuses to stop looking into the mysterious deaths of mutilated girls. Even as the world falls apart around him, and much of the debris hits him on the way down, he still plugs along. It's a bizarre soup of apocalypse fiction, supernatural fiction, detective fiction, and horror fiction. And I mean that in a good way.
Review by Danny Hanbery
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