A few weeks ago I stumbled onto one of those BookTube girls online and I started watching her videos as she went through her bookshelves, talking about the myriad of books she owned and which ones she liked and which ones she hated and why and why not. All the while she complained about dating and college and the rest of her seemingly perfect life.
Despite this, I did manage to take some of her book recommendations, titles that I simply would never have heard of before. One of those that rose to the top (not exactly sure why) was the book You’ve Reached Sam, which is about a high school girl who’s boyfriend suddenly dies and, in her grief, she calls his number to hear his voice on his voicemail, but instead of getting a recording her dead boyfriend actually picks up.
I immediately got the book (along with around 200+ other titles that formed my new reading list and loaded them up on my new ebook reader (a Likebook P6). I set out to finish this book as soon as I possibly could with the intension of forming a new profusive reading habit that would move reading to the top of my list of daily activities (other than watching Youtube videos or television shows since there doesn’t seem to be enough of those to fill the day with – but there are more than enough books to do so). Just as a note, there will be spoilers in this post so be forewarned.
So, now that I just finished this book, let’s jump in and see what I thought of it…
It is a great story. The premise was what hooked me at first. The idea that not only was there abrupt and severe tragedy but that there was some kind of realist supernatural mayhem going on, made me immediately get it.
If you follow this blog at all you know I’m fascinated with death. Not morbidly so, but with what I think is a healthy curiosity and maybe it’s true a little unhealthy anxiety to find out as much as I can before my turn is up.
I’m also fascinated with piercing that wall that separates us between the living and the dead. Not that I’m really interested in ghosts or typical paranormal tropes. Though I did spend an inordinate amount of time writing about departed souls stuck between worlds in my Meadow Series. In those books there are typical disembodied spirits that then shift into malevolent ghosts, that then ends up with ghosts taking a back seat to demons.
So I guess it is a little inaccurate to say I’m not interested in typical paranormal activity, but what I’m really fascinated with is what happens to us normally the moment after we die. Do we cease to exist? Do we go somewhere else? Is it like the Bible claims, that we are carried off by angels to Hades and are deposited as prisoners in this underworld prison for disembodied souls awaiting with hope the resurrection?
This book touches on this idea. Of course, it doesn’t really ever provide any answers. Julie frequently asks Sam where he is, what he can see. All he ever says is he sees endless fields. But that really doesn’t tell us anything. And when she runs out to their fields toward the end of the book, he’s not there. The book’s theology or ideology really points to an alternate world or alternate dimensionality for the dead, though they are certainly existing, they are not inhabiting the same space as living humans do.
I found it quite interesting that in that alternate reality of the dead, the dead really don’t know what’s happening in the world of the living. There were several times I waited to see if Sam knew what was going on in the world when something significant happened, and I never found an instance where he actually did. I think this is in line with the biblical account. Once a person dies, their body decays, there is no tether any longer between the soul and living world. The Rich Man is a perfect example of this. He at least appears not to have any idea what’s happening with his family back in the real world as he exists in Hades in torment. He does not seem to really have any kind of knowledge concerning how much time has passed either. He just looks up from his torment and sees Abraham (which is surprising in and of itself given the “gulf fixed between them”). It’s even more bizarre that he can have a discussion with Abraham.
Of course, in the Sam book, the conversations between Julie and Sam are facilitated by way of their smart phones. And why wouldn’t they in the year 2022? Of course, ghosts typically have no issue communicating through all sorts of different devices. In Poltergeist, Carryann spoke to the entity through the television set. Many ghosts use Ouija boards. Some use channelers.
Sam uses a Samsung (I’m sure an iPhone is not capable of such sophisticated communication).
For what it is, I really liked the exploration of this idea, of the idea of not wanting to let go, of first love, of true love, of desperate loss, and our all too comfortable friend, pain. Sure, there were some problems. So, let me talk about those for a minute.
I Hate the First Person Perspective
Right out of the gate, the book received a strike against it. I abhor first person narration. I hate even worse: present tense narration. Use 3rd person, past tense already (says the guy who wants to write a future novel about zombies in 2nd person, and without actually using the word zombie).
Additionally, there were some issues with proofing for this ebook. Not gross negligent kind of errors. But there were some “and in on the dock” kind of stuff, that made it clearly appear to be hastily edited by spellcheck with fewer passovers (says the guy who intends on using grammarly as my editor in the future).
I also did not like the blatant virtue signaling, the token inclusion of certain lifestyles that had no bearing whatsoever on the plot and were inserted just so they could say they were represented. I would prefer authenticity over this kind of superficial blowharding.
Letting Go of Things
This was the first book that I finished reading in my new e-ink ebook reader. I purchased the Likebook P6 about a month ago, wanting to see if I could get back into reading the traditional way instead of using a text to speech reader (or reading paper books which I abhor). Given it was the first title I finished, it was also the first one that allowed me to see how I could pull the notes out of the P6 and transfer them over to my MacBook for use in this blog post. It wasn’t perfect, but it definitely worked.
One of the notes I pulled was this quote from Julie, “All this time, I’ve been making plans for something that was never even an option.”
It struck a nerve for me, given that I do a lot of planning in my life and I would say about 80% of my plans go unfulfilled, are side railed, or turn out to be completely unachievable (like Julie getting into Reed College).
Her response to this was to give up on making plans altogether, a sentiment I can certainly relate to. Most of my plans over the last five + years have not been related to relationships (since I scuttled the hope or thought of having a relationship with another human back when my marriage imploded) but have centered around my desire to live a life as a solitary in a small hermitage on the property I purchased when I moved here. Unfortunately, I’ve found that I have little initiative to do the physical work demanded out there when at my house in town I have everything that I really want (free time + endless supply of books + endless supply of tv).
But, Julie really couldn’t live life without goals or plans for too long. Even in the face of the dead of the person she loved, life finds a way of going on. This is my hope, too, as spring comes rushing in shortly (we’re still getting freeze warnings at night so it’s not here just yet), that I’m compelled to try yet again on another season of making a go at Eden. I believe once I can make it through one winter (which all I need is a warm, dry place to sleep and spend my down time – where the wood stove would work) then I will not even look back at my house in town. The romantic notion of living out there full time, close to nature, growing my food, fishing for food, hiking every day in the woods, getting the pleasure from experiencing and interacting with the wildlife, its all still there. I just have to dig deeper to find the motivation to get myself there.
Weather is, of course, a massive factor in all this. I know what it’s like to lay, shivering, in a soaked sleeping bag all night because of unforeseen disasters. My hope is I have this covered with my new hammock configuration. Hopefully it will protect me from the wind, the rain, the cold temps, and provide a space in the temp shelter until the peremnant one is constructed this summer.
Of course, there is also the newly founded aspiration to develop the property behind the tracks. Mostly I desire to do this 1. Because of the spectacular view I would have from my shelter and deck (I’ll have to get video and pictures this summer) 2. Get me out of the valley with the ever present danger of tree fall 3. The tracks property is not only 3/4ths of an acre, but it is southern exposure, has a private pond at the bottom, has a private swamp-meadow + hidden forest that is available for use. It has extensive roads at the top of the ridge that dump into the cove + it really shouldn’t, in theory, take more than $5000 to finish ($1000 for right-of-way, $4000 for dock), then an additional $2000 to survey and separate the lots so I can sell the one in the valley, plus sell the house, which would provide about $80,000 as a nest egg while still having the tracks property where I can then build a deck, then a small dugout shelter with a plexiglass front wall for warmth in winter and a full view of the vista to the south.
But, as with Julie’s statement above, it’s better not to make plans than to make them and have them never materialize. It would be one thing to try and get right-of-way status or put a dock in and have the railroad company just tell me no (to be honest, that would be motivation to move to that lot gorilla style and just not have a dock, but I really can’t see me climbing that hill or the tracks at 80 years old). Part of me is trying to argue that I would be better off just building my shelter on the other property and not caring about all the benefits of the tracks property.
But, the worst they could do is say no. The worst that could happen would be getting the dock in and moving over, only to discover I can never divide the property at all. But that’s when I simply sell both properties with a 100 year lease on the tracks property back to myself. The new owners will most likely be fisherman or water sports campers and will love to have me paying the property taxes each year and the dock fees until I die. I would much rather have my property be completely separate, though.
Honestly, though, I really need to just start the season and start the work on the permeant shelter and thoroughly test out my new hammock setup, and hike every day and test out a new garden plot this year, and then see where the other property takes me. Really, these are all no-lose scenarios for me.
Love and Loss
This book really hit home for me at this time in my life, when I’m struggling after 13 years of peace as a solitary to abruptly be given a desire to share my life with someone else. Julie had her life completely mapped out before Sam’s death. They were going to graduate high school, go off to college together, start their lives together. I thought that way my entire marriage. My wife and I both came from dysfunctional families. Her parents divorce early in her childhood. My parents, instead, chose to stay together for the sake of the kids and I was subsequently subjected to 18 years of continuous fighting and discontent, bitterness, resentment, and passive aggressive vitriol. When I got married, my then future wife and I discussed it at length and both agreed that divorce would never be an option for us, no matter what came our way. We would work it out together. We would weather any storm. Later, she finally confessed that she’d just told me what I wanted to hear so I would go through with the marriage. She always knew that if things didn’t work out, if our relationship became too much work, got too difficult, divorce was there to save the day.
There’s nothing quite like basing your entire relationship with someone on a complete fabrication.
It took a very, very long time for me to get over that marriage. To be honest, I’m not even certain I ever got over it or if I’m over it today. In fact, part of me wishes we’d never divorced in the first place. Part of me wishes she would have been true to her word, that she would have at least tried to work on our problems instead of just throwing in the towel so easily. I guess her actions really tell the truth on what our relationship – on what I – really meant to her in the end.
I mourned for my marriage that first year after we split up. I begrudgingly filed for divorce after I agreed to take over the family business because my father’s health was getting worse. In hindsight it was a very good thing that I filed when I did. She certainly wasn’t going to actually file. What did she care if we were still legally married. She wasted no time shacking up with the next guy in her periphery. After all, I raised her financial status quite a bit in those five years. She went from having her lights shut off for delinquency, living in low-income housing, to owning a house, to owning a thriving business that afforded both of us to quit our jobs and work from home. For all I did for her, though, I guess it was still too much to try and make it work. Easier to just kick me to the curb and find someone new.
It’s hard to let go in this life. Julie found that out when she had to choose between keeping the connection between her and Sam and risking it all so Sam could talk to his cousin or his brother on the phone. In the end, she sacrificed her own happiness to comfort those around her. There did come a time when she would ultimately have to let him go (though, the problem with the story was in the beginning he said he would be there for her as long as she needed him, but then later, he abruptly had to go without explanation. I guess Sam had a problem with keeping his word, too).
Despite the difficulty, letting go does seem to be intricately woven into life. I guess there just is no escaping it.
Some Interesting Notes
Here are some interesting quotes I found in the book that I underlined (I really like the ebook note taking system. It works rather well).
“But maybe we’re always connected, even after you’re gone..” While this is a comforting sentiment, I don’t think there is anything that really points to a connection the living have with the dead. There really is none at all. Despite the protests from the paranormal crowd, there really is no evidence at all of supernatural activity in reality. From the biblical record, we have the Witch of Endor bringing Samuel back in spirit form and she was shocked when she actually did it. I think that speaks volumes about how much of the occult is fake and garbage both then and today. I would argue probably 99% of everything we’ve ever seen or heard of is a sham when it comes to contact with the dead. At best, the only connection the living have with those who have gone on are the memories we keep of them.
“Those moments inside our heads are just as real as anything else.” I will say I found this part of the book very intriguing. It is a philosophical idea I’ve thought a lot about over the years. How real are the fabrications in our own head? How real are the characters on the television screen? What about the characters in our books? Do they exist only when we are actively observing them (oh, kind of like us)? Do they go on existing and doing things that are not written in the books they exist in? Do we continue to exist and are able to perpetuate our own existence (i.e. living day to day) only because Christ is constantly and continually focused on our existence? If he looked away would I freeze in time and become a probability state of existing and not existing simultaneously until he looked back on me? Or, are our stories truly only fabrications, mythos, make believe? How would we even know? How could we ever find out? Do the fantasies I think about and knit together over time in the quiet moments of my life about my wife and what I thought our lives should have gone instead of the devastating direction it actually went, are those just as real as the implosion? Is there an alternative reality out there where my wife and I worked through our problems and we stayed together and raised the kids and moved to the coast like we always talked about doing? Do we go for walks together on the beach? Does she begrudgingly go for hikes with me on our days off? Do we garden together? Are we happy?
I would have to argue, no. Primarily because these are ultimately one sided. They originate from my own mind and have no input from my wife, whoever that person actually is. In fact, the person I married was actually not even real, even though I shared a bed with her for five years, and we worked together and laughed together. She lied about who she was, what she stood for, and what was important to her from the very beginning of our relationship. In fact, there is an argument to be made that the person I imagine in my own head is just as real as the fabrication my wife led me to believe I was marrying, but less real than the person she secretly was (the person I really never knew until the end of our marriage – the person who stayed out all night, who said she would put me in a home because I became ill, the person who wished we would have waited 6 more months to get married because she knew we would have slept together before we got married (basically destroying my faith)). That actual, real person was a stranger. I never knew her at all.
One interesting development from reading this book was discovering the author was represented by Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, and his agent was Thao Le. After finishing, I looked them up and I’m half tempted to submit one of my books to them. I could re-edit (with grammarly) In the Meadow or I could submit Writing Kathy and Charlotte (which I just finished the rough draft). I might have better luck with In the Meadow, since there are really no theological overtones to the plot until the third book in the trilogy. Writing Kathy and Charlotte is about demon possession and at least one person in the end is saved (of course, a whole bunch of people are lost, but…I’m not sure that matters in this day and age).
Even if I don’t submit to them in particular, I’m considering using the tracking app and see if I can find an agent that will represent my work in the future.
In the end, this was a really good book. It, like most books, though, ended without much closure. I thought for sure we would see Julie end up with Tristan or some other guy and we would flash forward to her late 20’s, happily married, seeing her relationship with Sam as just a stepping stone to a relationship that was beyond even comparison. But, we don’t get any of this. All we get is some mentions in the Epilogue of Julie writing a few articles and getting them published online, about her moving away to college, and how she “thinks of him” but no mention of how her memories shape her, form her, or help define who she is in the future.
Personally, I know my marriage, despite its bitter and twisted end, is the reason I am who I am today for good or ill. It is actually the reason I can look at my life today with genuine appreciation for what I truly have (and sometimes for what I’m not burdened with). After all, most of life is a comparison. It is context. And it is all relative.
I would recommend this book, though, I did find it a little incomplete. It’s still leaps and bounds better than the Vampire Academy train wreck that I never got past the first chapter. But, now I’m off to read another titles, this time it’s Nightfall, a short-story by Isaac Asimov. I’ll post a review on that as soon as I finish.
Until my next review….
Please consider supporting my writing, my unschooled studies, and my hermitic lifestyle by purchasing one or more of my books. I’m not supported by academia or have a lucrative corporate job – I’m just a mystical modern-day hermit trying to live out the life I believe God has called me to. So, any support you choose to provide is GREATLY appreciated.
Excerpt from In the Meadow:
A second later, the engine roared to life, and Dawn glanced back, one last time, at the trailer she’d grown up in.
The empty yard.
The trail she’d blazed through the blackberries.
That gaunt looking trailer.
Everything she saw now looked so dirty and run down, almost a shambles.
It was like a dream.
Paul circled wide, then threw the truck in reverse and backed up. As he braked and put it back into drive, Dawn could see Harold’s place a few slips down.
Paul gave the truck some gas.
As they went by, she could see Harold standing outside, near his front door, motionless, watching them.
She didn’t mention the earlier conversation to Paul.
Why would she?
He was just a creepy ass guy, and one of the handful of things she didn’t have to deal with anymore.
They drove out the front gate of the trailer park, down the side street to the corner, Paul stopping for a moment as he waited on the traffic to clear.
He took her hand and smiled at her, then pulled out onto the highway, heading west.
They drove past the Ray’s Grocery Store, past the gas station, where Bart was out front, talking excitedly to the Desmond boy.
Paul kissed her hand and she smiled, laying her head back against the headrest.
There was nothing else standing in her way now.
As Dawn began to relax, she watched as her old life quickly dissipate into vapor in their wake.
For the first time in her life, she was leaving Oakridge. She was moving to an entirely different state, a new home, with the man of her dreams.
She’d never even been out of Oregon before.
“Now or never,” Paul said, as they drove past the trailhead sign, on the right.
Dawn tightened her grip on his hand.
She’d finally gotten her wish.
She was leaving Oakridge.
Buy my book In the Meadow to find out what Dawn will do as her perfect fairytale life begins to unravel. Are the girls calling out from the banks of the Skagit River trying to help her? Do they want to hurt her? What secrets will she find?
But, trust me when I say, this is going to be a roller coaster of a ride. People are dying all around her, and you have no idea what evil lurks in the meadow! Get started in this thriller story today and find out why they’re warning her…calling out to her….trying to tell her…to RUN!