One could be forgiven if they thought the title of this book belongs in the murder-mystery genre. While there is no actual murder, there has been a psychological one of sorts, and, like a good mystery, the reader is compelled to read right up to the last page to see how Eve, the female protagonist of The Dead Man (2016, Inanna Publications) throws off the bonds of her entrapment to a man she met years ago and hasn’t seen or heard from in five years. Is he “dead”? Or is it Eve’s memory that is keeping him alive unnecessarily?
Eve & Jake
Eve Bercovitch is a fifty-five-year-old music therapist, aspiring composer and widow with two grown boys. Years ago, she sat on a panel alongside Jacob (Jake) Gladstone, a famous music critic. They soon get to talking and find they have many common interests. Jake tells her that he feels he could tell her anything and everything, which he could never do with his wife Fran. Eve and Jake fall in love and become lovers, but he soon returns to Israel, leaving her behind in Toronto. They continue to communicate via phone and email, and Eve makes trips to Israel (where she has a family) to see Jake secretly. One day she receives an email from Jake: “It’s over. Don’t ever call or write to me again.” Eve is devastated, and for the next five years, she lives in a state of limbo, phoning Jake just to hear his voice, then hanging up. She finds it hard to pass a pay phone without calling him. Everything reminds her of Jake. She refers to this time as her “gloomy obsession”. She has even stopped composing: “There was no more music in her. Only silence inside her. It was dead silence. And she herself felt dead.”
A Trip of Self-discovery
Then, on a trip to Israel to attend a seminar on Music Therapy (and fighting an overwhelming urge to call Jake), she presents a case history to the class based on Jake’s life (Eve changes his name to Jerry) called “The Life Story of a Man” and this is the leaping off point for Eve on a cathartic voyage of self-discovery, self-analysis and self-reflection as the class pegs Jerry as a psychopath, something Eve would never have considered Jake to be. As she begins to awaken to what has controlled her for the past five years, she again starts to hear music from sounds around her, starts to compose and begins to enjoy life again. But she must confront Jake one more time before leaving Israel.
This was a compelling read. The reader is irresistibly borne along by Ms. Gold as they accompany Eve on her voyage back from the land of the dead. We cheer Eve on as she begins to live again for herself and not for the memory of Jake. But this novel is not merely about a brief, intense relationship that has ended. It is also about sudden loss, the type of loss that leaves the survivor(s) with overwhelming guilt and other self-destructive emotions. Filled with musical references, psychology and Jewish/Yiddish terms, The Dead Man is a lovingly well-written and fascinating novel of a woman’s recovery from years of grief and emptiness.
Nora Gold, born and raised in Montreal, is a prize-winning author. Her recent novel, Fields of Exile, won the 2015 Canadian Jewish Literary Award.