Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A review of Conversations with a Dead Man by Doug Lucas

Doug Lucas is a retired marine who has worked as both a combat photographer and forensic photographer.   He is part of Pipe Dreams Publishing - and if you're thinking of submitting work to his publishing house - visit his website first - cos he's got something to say to you: http://tinyurl.com/co9h8r6    In fact, just visit is website anyway - it's really funny!

Conversations with a Dead Man

conversations with a dead manA young man idles away his time in a rural church yard and finds himself deep in conversation with John Wesley Elder.  Nothing unusual in that you might think, but John Wesley Elder is dead.   The young man soon finds out that being dead doesn't mean you have nothing to say, or that what you did in life should be forgotten, and the story of John Wesley Elder's life unfolds.  The Elder family escape from the feudal hardships of life in eighteenth century Ireland and come to the New World.  Here they build a new life and John learns the importance of hard work and self-sufficiency.  His life is full of hard knocks but he is nobodies fool and he tell his tale with wry humor.  He describes the hard work and community spirit involved in building the Elk River settlement, the growing unhappiness with the Crown and taxation and the hardships and struggle of the American War of Independence.  And threaded throughout the story is the tale of his relationship with the Native American Ester, the love of his life.

Let me begin by saying - READ THIS BOOK.  The book is written in the lilting Virginian Brogue of the time, which for me, just brought the character of John Wesley alive.  He comes across as a very engaging and warm-hearted individual.  His ideals - work hard, treat everyone fair and equal, do what you can to help -  apply in any age.  Lucas evokes the spirit of the age in his depiction of the work and co-operation that helped build the settlement.  He looks at how simple actions can change destinies - the preacher Yost who drank too much; the trip to Charleston for school-books that through a chance meeting begin to shape his politics.  Like many Brits I am not very familiar with the history of the American War of Independence or relations with the 'colonies' during the eighteenth century, however Lucas' descriptions felt believable.  The terrifying crossing of the Delaware River, at night, in icy conditions was particularly well described.  The complex relationships settlers had with the Native American population is also explored.
But more than the big things - the historical events - this book is a love story.  John marries the virago Kezzy, but he has always loved Ester. The wonderful relationship and equal partnership between he and Ester and the prejudice she faced being full-blooded native American are wonderfully described.
This book is also filled with humor - in recounting his life, often the most terrible events or dangerous situations are punctuated with a humorous anecdote or aside.  Even after death the graveyard is buzzing with conversations and bickering.  The dead don't want to be forgotten.  Which brings me to the bigger themes at play here.  Lucas examines the nature of human memory and memorial.  Gravestones are so often un-communicative. Walk through a church yard and you could be forgiven for thinking that the dead are unimportant.  But this novel looks at why the past is important and why remembering and respecting those who have gone before is important - they made us what we are.
It sometimes it seems that John Elder is an idealised character, with very progressive views, but I think that is entirely in keeping with the spirit of this novel and for me this did not detract from it.  Occasionally the graveyard humor surrounding John's boozy sons became a little over-worked but apart from that I loved this novel. In short, this book made me laugh, made me think, and even made me cry at times.  I can't imagine why it has not been picked up by a publishing house.

You can buy Conversations with a Dead Man by Doug Lucas on Amazon:


Reviewed by Lenora on behalf of www.ingridhall.com 

You can find Lenora at www.hauntedpalace.co.uk

Ingrid Hall is the author of Granny Irene's Guide to the Afterlife - Revenge.  She is offering free interviews and book reviews at www.ingridhall.com

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