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Lying With the Dead by Michael Mewshaw

Lying With the Dead

by Michael Mewshaw

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In Michael Mewshaw’s latest novel, three grown siblings, all haunted by a traumatic childhood, converge on their dying mother’s home in Maryland. Maury, the eldest sibling, has Asperger’s and suffers under the guilt of having killed his own father years ago while defending his mother. Candy, the middle sibling, lives with the aftereffects of polio. Still living in Maryland and taking care of her mother, Candy longs for a life and love of her own. Quinn, the youngest, is an actor living in London, who supports his mother financially but otherwise attempts to minimize all contact with his troubled family. When the family comes together, shocking secrets are revealed, culminating in a dramatic, if predictable, ending.

The narrative alternates among the three voices of the siblings, but, because there’s little difference between Candy’s and Quinn’s voices (Maury’s Asperger’s makes his voice a bit more distinct), much of the effect is lost. Further, depicted as unrelentingly abusive and selfish, the mother has few redeeming qualities and forms an unconvincing emotional center of this novel. Mewshaw’s real strength is in writing credible dialog. At least half the book (and probably more) is straight dialog, which keeps the pace lively and engaging. Although lacking depth of characterization, Lying with the Dead is an entertaining and quick-paced family drama.

This review also appears on my blog Literary License. ( )
  gwendolyndawson | Jan 7, 2010 |
Lying with the Dead is another very good novel by an author I have missed along the way. Michael Mewshaw has a wonderfully engaging style of writing that makes the reader look forward to every page. The story is as fascinating and timeless as Aeschylus' trilogy, The Oresteia. Themes of love and hate, envy and compassion, dominance and submissiveness, humor and pathos, and death and endurance unfold in lyrical sentences not unlike those of the author quoted in the novel, William Faulkner.

Three sibling narrators with very different points of view alternate describing with unique insight the action centered on their mother. My favorite was Maury, the ultimate survivor in his own world of self-protective rituals and limited understanding of the motives of others. Though he lacks the worldly sophistication of his brother and the religious confidence of his sister, Maury's understanding of life is more natural and existential than his siblings.

This is another fortunate selection of a novel (5 stars) that allows me to add the other 10 novels by this author to my reading list. Similar to Maury, I just need a palm-size house where I can look into the window and see where I sit in my chair to read. If you can just see clearly and concretely inside something, especially yourself, the lies of others can't defeat you or give you a legacy of poison in your blood. ( )
  GarySeverance | Nov 4, 2009 |
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Mewshaw’s interlacing of viewpoints freshens this overworked family-reunion terrain, minimizing the anticlimactic thud of his characters’ closeted skeletons.
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...the family matriarch calls home her three children for a final, bedside reunion. Once the family is assembled in the childhood home, the pieces of a somber puzzle come together.

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