Now she understood the superstitions of ancient cultures, the impetus for séances and Ouija boards, and the necessity of burial, so that the dead might sleep in peace. She couldn't say which was more troubling -- the state of her husband's soul or the state of her own mind, for she suspected that all those mourners with their mirrors reversed did not dread spirits so much as the look of their own haunted faces. (from The Widow's Season, page 23)
The Widow's Season by Laura Brodie focuses on Sarah McConnell, a 39-year-old widow haunted by her dead husband. She had been wallowing in grief for three months when she first saw her husband's ghost. It happened in the grocery store right around Halloween. He locked eyes with her for a moment, and he seemed more real than otherworldly. He is gone before Sarah can approach him, but this vision becomes the first of many. And given that her husband's death at the hands of a swollen river during a bad storm in the mountains near their home in Jackson, Virginia, is declared without his body having been found, Sarah begins to wonder whether David is really dead or simply trading the life of a busy doctor for one of a simple artist and hermit.
Sarah is haunted not only by David's ghost, but also by their marriage of more than a decade that involved several heartbreaking miscarriages and a slow emotional and physical withdrawal by both of them. When a spouse dies so unexpectedly, there are so many things left unsaid and undone -- and there isn't a thing the surviving spouse can do to remedy the situtation. Life must go on for Sarah. She must decide what to do about the huge house left empty by David's death and her inability to carry a baby to term. She must prepare David's paintings for an exhibition in a local gallery and later a more prestigious showing in Washington, D.C. And she must contend with her attraction to Nate, David's handsome-to-the-point-of-perfection (or at least he's described that way, but maybe not in those exact words) younger brother.
The Widow's Season offers a ghost story for readers who like to read about mysterious hauntings but don't like to be scared. Brodie explores the depths of grief -- how it affects Sarah to her very core; how sadness, depression, and despair can blur the borders of reality; and how surviving spouses cope with feelings of guilt as life goes on. There isn't a whole lot of plot in The Widow's Season, but Brodie's beautiful prose more than makes up for it. Her sentences are brilliantly crafted to set a mood, and I felt a heaviness as I read Sarah's story. I felt her loss, her pain, and her anger, and I loved how Brodie was able to use a handful of words to toy with my emotions.
When it comes to the characters of Sarah, David, and Nate, Sarah is probably the most well developed. However, Brodie paints a portrait of their true selves, flaws and all, so that readers see their evolution and understand that no one person is to blame for the events that transpire. I didn't like all of them all of the time, and that made them more authentic to me.
The Widow's Season grabbed me from the first page and kept me guessing until the end. It's not a novel filled with sunshine and flowers (thank goodness), but there is some hope to cancel out some of the sadness. Readers who like emotional, character-driven stories should give it a try.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Widow's Season from the author for review purposes.