On the surface, The Widow of Saunders Creek by Tracey Bateman is a sweet story that combines the themes of romance, grief and friendship against the backdrop of some dangerous paranormal activity. But probe beneath the surface, and you will find that this is above all a tale of faith in God’s name as the answer to every problem.
Jarrod, a soldier, dies a hero's death in Iraq, leaving his young widow, Corrie, to mourn his untimely death. Unable to get over her grief, she decides to head back to the boyhood home he inherited from his grandmother in Missouri, in the Ozarks. Having dreamed of a lifetime together with her husband, she is unable and unwilling to reconcile with his sudden death and the realization that he is lost to her forever. She secretly hopes that living in his boyhood home will give her an opportunity to feel him near and get over her sorrow.
When she begins to sense some unseen presence around her, responding to her in just the way her husband used to, she welcomes it, believing it to be Jarrod come back to comfort her. But Eli, Jarrod's cousin and pastor at a little rural church, knows better. He knows that the forces of evil are very strongly cultivated in those parts and fears the power of his own Aunt Trudy and some other family members, who dabble in the dark arts.
Slowly Eli and Corrie begin to develop feelings for each other. Yet Eli refrains from revealing his, feeling that he has no right to push Corrie who needs time to get over her grief and heal in peace.
Corrie, on her part, struggles with her own feelings for Eli, and sees in her growing attraction to him a disloyalty to Jarrod. Rejecting Eli’s mother’s suggestion that she stop considering the presence in the house as Jarrod and ask it to leave, she prefers to call Aunt Trudy over to conduct a séance. It is only when this act arouses the malevolent spirit that Corrie realizes the extent of the evil that she has been toying with.
The book has been written in the first person perspectives of Corrie and Eli, each alternating with the other and discussing every situation from its own unique and distinct point of view. To her credit, Bateman has managed to achieve this distinctness without resorting to dialect to distinguish between the perspectives of the two leading characters. The characterisation comes out through the language, sounding unmistakably feminine when it is Corrie's perspective, and masculine when Eli is talking.
The alternative writing from the POV of the two leads gives us the perspective of seeing each situation more fully. As a composite of the experiences of the key people involved.
Bateman’s writing is masterful. I actually experienced the feeling known as "hair standing on end" when Corrie experiences the invisible entity beside her in the house. Bateman succeeded in creeping me out with her descriptions of spooky phenomena, building the required tension in the atmosphere even as chairs rock on their own, doors slam, and Corrie gets the sudden feeling that she is not alone in the room – they are all there. And yet this novel is much more than a mere ghost story. Those expecting to be spooked out completely will be very disappointed.
This is essentially a novel about faith and sounds a clear warning against messing around with the dark arts. Bateman reiterates, through Eli’s conviction and Corrie’s experiences in the house, that His Name is enough.
Bateman’s style of writing is fluid and beautiful, and there are many times when you feel a lump in your throat. Especially when she writes about the mural that Corrie paints as an apology for Eli or the reconciliation between Corrie and Jarrod’s parents. There were a number of tricky issues that were handled well. The selfishness, cowardice and cruelty that were part of Jarrod’s character, the Jarrod that Corrie never knew; the strength of Corrie’s gift for painting are but a few examples.
The only place where the writing falters ever so slightly is when Eli and Corrie have put the evil out of their lives and are free to contemplate a new life together. Thankfully, this romantic interlude comes at the close of a book that is well worth the time it takes to read it.
I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.