In the First Early Days of My Death|
by Catherine Hunter
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by Angela K. Narth
Reserve a spot on your 2003 reading list for Catherine Hunter's newest novel. With two thrillers, three collections of poetry and one spoken word recording already behind her, this Winnipeg author continues to reveal the scope of her talent. In the First Early Days of My Death is not easily categorized. Found in the mystery section of bookstores, this diminutive novel can be enjoyed on several levels. On the surface, it works well as a mystery whose premise bears a passing resemblance to Alice Sebold's current bestseller The Lovely Bones. Wendy Li is a young Winnipeg librarian. She realizes she is dead when she finds herself floating among her loved ones, receiving neither acknowledgement nor recognition. She comes to the conclusion that she has been murdered by Evelyn, her husband's jealous ex-girlfriend. Wendy hovers on the fringes of the astral plane, frustrated by her inability to help her earth-bound friends and relatives to see to it that Evelyn is brought to justice.
A tantalizing sub-plot involves a widely unpopular casino project and high-level corruption at city hall. The mayor is as addicted to power as his wife Louise is to gambling. To shore up his habit, the mayor ignores his wife. To shore up her habit, Louise has an affair with one of the casino investors. She trades insider information for money to play the slots. The pace is good, although the action contains less of the spookiness of Hunter's previous suspense novels. The current novel is at its most intriguing at deeper levels. On the spiritual one, it is a soothing glimpse into the transition between life and death; a hint of how one might view the world as one is leaving it. It gives calming reassurance that we are all redeemable, and if one's beliefs permit, recyclable. Sections of the book devoted to Wendy in her altered state are beautifully written: "I rose above the silver maple and looked down upon its crown...I had never seen it for what it truly wasła giant being, rooted to the planet, rustling and breathing. It bent its great body with the wind, bowing sometimes toward the grass and reaching sometimes toward the sky, but always it remained, anchored deep below the surface of the earth."
Hunter effectively uses these unusual omniscient first-person sections of the novel to create tone and usher the reader through the story without sacrificing pace. Not surprising from the pen of a poet, this novel is rife with symbols. Placed on the eyelids of the dead in some cultures, and buried with the dead in others, coins are scattered throughout the novel as symbolic of the material world. Every morning Felix, the detective, consults the I Ching. He tosses three coins for enlightenment, making choices by the way they fall. Evelyn is haunted by the ghost of her dead younger brother who, in life, made coins vanish with a magic kit. Louise, the mayor's gambling wife, trades secrets for coins. At the deepest levels this is a novel about epiphanies that arise from coincidence. Evelyn, who has spent her life trying to manipulate fate, could never get the coin in the magic kit to disappear. She eventually realizes she has never really controlled anything. Louise, who can't keep coins from disappearing, seeks anonymity at every turn. But it is her face, recognized in a video shot of an anti-casino rally, that finally leads detectives to solve Wendy's case. Wendy, who spent her life seeking belonging, dies because of a momentous decision to stay home from the rally to take care of her family. She realizes, belatedly, she has always been the centre of the universe for the people who really mattered to her. This is a novel which can be appreciated on many levels. When readers reach the last page, perhaps they can decide: Is it chance that 'coincidence', the last word in the book, begins with 'coin'? ņ