Reviewed by: JA Gill
Genre: Literary fiction
Approximate word count: 60-65,000 Words
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Editor turned novelist Susan Wells Bennett resides in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and their two dogs. Forsaking the Garden is her latest novel. Previous novels include The Prophet’s Wives and The Thief of Todays and Tomorrows.
Famous author Tim Chase is about to write the greatest novel of his life, in the afterlife, and as a muse.
“Ha! She thought with a laugh, ghost writer. If ever such a name were more fitting, I’ve never encountered it.”
And yet ghost writer is perhaps too obvious a title for a book dealing with death and atonement that takes as its premise the transliteration of the very phrase—from uncredited writer to uncredited writer who is a ghost. Not surprisingly then, An Unassigned Life comprises the elements of high farce: catchy dialogue, colorful characters, fast-paced plot, and happy ending.
While Life’s plot clicks into place with the familiar ghost story scene of relatable young couple starting a life together in their new dream home only to find out that it’s still inhabited, the reader is on the other side, that of the side of the recently deceased. Bennett borrows from the Christian idea of a heaven and hell and the corporeal life as test for the great hereafter, the score of which decides the direction or path of the soul for eternity. Hell we know is definitely bad but for vague reasons and so heaven wins by apparent default, the lesser of the two evils anyway. Inserted somewhere is earth, home to the living and a second chance for the fleshless moral slackers, sensing that they need to get into God’s good graces but not sure how.
Other characters include a flaky tattoo artist’s girlfriend, a pretentious angel, and a cynical priest, all communing in the vain and vulnerable. Tim Chase, the egotistical novelist and main character discovers his mortal coil undisturbed in the next life. Those he haunts or rather pesters are piquantly human as well; with the exception of a harmless bum who serves as a simple and altruistic foil for the rest.
At heart, An Unassigned Life is an economically plotted story about couplehood—corporeal and incorporeal—as each struggle with the concept of personal identity and shared space. Bennett’s storytelling is refreshingly straightforward—a Spartan use of simile and metaphor—both sentimental and humorous though never treacle.
No significant issues.
Rating: *** Three stars