Review: the Dead I Know by Scot Gardner
You wake in the middle of the night, your arms and feet pinned by strong hands. As you thrash your way to consciousness, a calm voice says, “Steady. we’re here to help.” Your mind registers a paramedic, a policeman, an ambulance. You are lying on the lookout at Keeper’s Point, the lookout Amanda Creen supposedly threw herself off. And you have absolutely no idea how you got there.
When Aaron gets a job at a funeral home, he surprisingly takes to it. But there are dark secrets hidden in Aaron’s subconscious.He experiences dangerous bouts of sleepwalking and recurring dreams he can’t explain: a lifeless hand, a lipsticked mouth, a man, a gun… Can he piece the clues together and figure out the truth of his past?
I went into this book expecting it to be one kind of book, but ended up finding something far different – and something far better, in my opinion. The description on the back flap led me to believe that this was a story about a sleepwalker, when in fact, Aaron is much more than you are led to believe.
Newly finished school, Aaron has taken on a job with John Barton to become a funeral director’s assistant. To both of their surprise, Aaron takes to the job well, finding solace in the routines and dignity surrounding the preparation of the dead for their final goodbye. This isn’t to say that he is numb to the issues surrounding death and loss. Instead, Aaron’s initial hesitations and misgivings are presented in an authentic way, and the transition from unease to acceptance is real and logical to the flow of the story.
Life hasn’t been easy for Aaron, and he has built huge walls to keep people away. He’s quiet and withdrawn, and he lives in a trailer park with Mam; their relationship is complicated, and it is heartbreaking to see her decline despite Aaron’s attempts to care for her. Aaron also suffers from vivid dreams that lead to sleepwalking episodes, often placing him in situations that are unfamiliar or dangerous. As he continues to work at the funeral home, the lives of the newly dead begin to invade his dreams. While the back of the book would lead you to believe that this is the crux of the story, to me the sleepwalking was merely another symbol of the unraveling of Aaron’s very complicated story. As the story progresses, Aaron’s attempts to continue to compartmentalized his life begin to falter, especially as he slowly becomes part of the Barton family. When the true history of Aaron’s past is revealed, it is made more devastating by the contrast to his current existence.
The mystery of Aaron’s past is an important part of the story, but it isn’t everything about the story if that makes sense. I found myself as absorbed by how Aaron survived each day and his few relationships as much as I was by the mystery of his past, and I think that’s a good sign. By the time the mystery was revealed, I was invested enough in Aaron to want to find out what had happened, and how things might be resolved for him. I liked watching him slowly come out of his shell and develop connections as much as I liked the explanation behind the sleepwalking episodes. For those who might expect more action and a faster pace to the story – well, you’ll be disappointed. This arc builds slowly, and resolves itself gracefully. Just enjoy the ride.
Scot Gardner has written an absorbing story that draws you in slowly but holds you there once captured. His attention to detail when writing about life as a funeral director is done with sensitivity; he uses such skill that the macabre nature is left behind as you find yourself drawn into the nature of the job. It helps that Gardner has not allowed John Barton, Aaron’s boss and surrogate father, to be that classic stereotype of a slightly creepy or sinister funeral director. Instead, he is portrayed as a man who loves his family and is good at his job, even if it is perhaps a more unconventional choice. In fact most of the characters were well drawn and vivid. One side note: Scot Gardner writes his books based in Australia, and while you could definitely hear the Aussie tone in the book, it was also not so strong that those unfamiliar with the culture would be lost.
This book was provided by Penguin Canada for an honest review. It may be purchased from Indigo, Amazon or your friendly neighbourhood indie bookstore.