After reading Rescue Me and The Starter Wife, I was interested in meeting Grazer’s latest strong female protagonist in The After Wife. Hannah Marsh Bernal has the perfect life – an entertainment industry job she loves and a husband and daughter she adores. But it all falls apart on one fateful Saturday morning. Her husband John, a professional chef and author, leaves home for the local farmer’s market and is killed in a hit and run accident. Hannah tells us what it is like to have her life changed forever. In a few short hours, she goes from a woman making love to her husband to a widow in a world not sympathetic to sadness. “Grieving widows, a living sign of human vulnerability, are as welcome as chlamydia.”
I quickly became enmeshed in Hannah’s world. We go along with Hannah and her “Grief Team” – best friends Jay, Chloe, and Aimee – to the yoga studios, spas, cafes, and landmarks of Santa Monica. But Hannah also has more ethereal visitors. First, it is a voice in the backyard intoning, “It’s not true what they say.” A few months later, Hannah has another encounter with Trish, the deceased former owner of her North of Montana Avenue (NoMo) home, Casa Sugar. At a spa, while talking to best friend Aimee about a V-Steam, she sees a man sitting next to her, who she later discovers is Aimee’s deceased grandfather. When her daughter Ellie gets kicked out of a prestigious pre-school for mentioning that she still sees her father, Hannah sees the principal’s deceased grandmother. When she contacts a spiritualist on Halloween, she is told that her backyard is full of the dead. She loses her job when the dead relatives of her colleagues interrupt a crucial production meeting. Then she starts finding messages in the food in the refrigerator. But when John finally contacts her, he tells her that the police report is wrong. Now, not only does Hannah have to deal with living as a widow, she has to find her husband’s Range Rover-driving killer and listen to all of the dead people who have decided to use her as a conduit.
After coffee dates with a handsome widowed banker, they decide to go on a real date. That’s when Hannah finds out that she also sees the newly departed. She sees the deceased mother of the principal of her daughter’s new school minutes before the principal receives the phone call. She sees her best friend’s dog minutes before a coyote’s howl and the dog turns up missing. What does it all mean? Is Hannah destined to have a foot in both worlds? When she discovers a secret about one of her best friends, she asks herself, “Was I helping people with this ‘gift?’ Or hurting them?”
But life goes on, even for those visited by the dead. The bills pile up, but no job offers are on the horizon and no life insurance payment either. Hannah loses a job as a barista and accepts an offer to sell Casa Sugar and leave NoMo. But of course, that doesn’t happen, once Hannah discovers that she can contact the other side for profit. She is able to save her house while giving others closure with their departed loved ones. The final chapter solves the mystery of John’s death and lets us know that Hannah and her “Grief Team” have a lot of happiness in their future.
I liked Hannah, the reluctant widow who learns to reinvent herself while picking up the pieces of her life and the clues to her husband’s demise. Her descriptions of life North of Montana Avenue made me chuckle. Fate made Hannah realize that her lifestyle was a fleeting one. “I was gawking at my future – typical Santa Monica homeless woman – and she was mocking her past – typical Santa Monica latte-slinging, hand-wringing, hybrid-driving, liberal-voting, yoga mat-toting bourgeoisie.” But in spite of the humorous descriptions of Santa Monica residents, it is obvious that Hannah, and Glazer, love the residents of Santa Monica. A fun, uplifting read and another success for Gigi Levangie Grazer.
The After Wife by Gigi Levangie Grazer will be published on July 10, 2012, by Ballantine Books