Review

In my death, I discovered what it was like to truly live.

Have you ever wondered what happens after you die? Do you still exist? Will your loved ones remember you? Will you ever get to see each other again? These are questions probably everyone on earth has wondered about at some point in their lives. For all our wondering, Death remains the great unknown, and the perfect landscape for the imagination. Crissi Langwell poignantly explores the Afterlife in her debut novel, A SYMPHONY OF CICADAS, which I selected from the Cheap eBooks reading list.

Synopsis

A Ghost Story, A Love Story

But that is certainly not the case here. Langwell’s spare and poignant use of intimacy underscores a running theme throughout the book: the need and desire for human connection…

Mere weeks before Rachel Ashby’s wedding to John, her best friend and soulmate, Rachel and her son Joey are killed in a car accident. Rachel’s life was just about to begin, it seemed, but now—it was over. Or was it? She wakes up at the scene of her death, confronted with a new reality complete with new physical laws. In her alternate world, she can manipulate the laws of time and space, traveling to the outer reaches of the galaxy and back in the blink of an eye; she can visit whomever, wherever, whenever she chooses. In spite of the seemingly limitless wonders of this afterlife, Rachel learns that she is actually in a kind of limbo, a dimension where the spirits of the dead who cannot let go of their connection to the living world, linger indefinitely until they are at last ready to leave and enter “Heaven.” Unable to take this final step, Rachel becomes obsessed with not being forgotten and “haunts” John relentlessly. Though he cannot see or hear her, she is, nevertheless, constantly on his mind, preventing him from moving on or even taking care of himself and his son. At first, Rachel is blind to the harm she is causing by clinging so tenaciously to the living world. It isn’t until her influence almost causes an event as tragic as her own death that she begins to change, to learn what it really means to love, and to accept that the most loving thing she can do… is to let go.

What I loved…

Fog touched the edge of Mauna Kea, inviting me to test my father’s theory and prove him wrong. I placed a cautious step forward onto the filmy cloud, touching the solidity within the mist that existed only for me. I moved forward so that both my feet were firm on the fog […]  And then I ran across the fog at full speed, skipping over the covering of the earth until I reached end and jumped off into the ocean.

Mauna Kea, By: Robert Linsdell

  • Setting is extremely important in this novel, almost becoming a character in itself. Though it is primarily set in the Bay Area of northern California, we are swept away to exotic locations at the main character, Rachel’s, whims. From a whispery, cicada-filled forest, to the snowy summit of a Hawaiian volcano, to the very edge of our galaxy, Langwell’s descriptions of Rachel’s travels through time and space were quite beautiful and lyrical.
  • A huge strength of this novel is that it gives a really empathetic treatment of characters who sometimes act or appear distasteful. Langwell gives us the gift of understanding that a sullen teenager craves discipline and boundaries; or that an overbearing, overshadowing sister is lonely; or that an overworked, emotionally-unavailable husband wants to be part of his family again but doesn’t know how. Over and over again, Langwell shows us more than one side of someone, perhaps tacitly reminding us to give others the benefit of the doubt.
  • What I loved the most is a surprisingly prosaic thing, but one which I think separates good writers from bad writers—and that is an overall evenness to the story. Not once while reading did I think that a certain character, situation or plot point felt “out of place.” Not once did I notice a lack of consistency in the “rules” Langwell’s established in Rachel’s parallel dimension. What a pleasure to read such an intact work of writing
  • I admit that I can be a notoriously hard sell on a novel, and the first few pages of the book had me worried that I had stepped into a romance novel filled with gratuitous and (often) badly-written sex. But that is certainly not the case here. Langwell’s spare and poignant use of intimacy underscores a running theme throughout the book: the need and desire for human connection, the grasping at whatever vestiges of that connection remain when the one you love is lost… She does not rely on sex alone (or really much at all) to make this point. 

 

It seemed that even in the poorest of times, people still needed flowers to say what they couldn’t with words.

By: MZPlus

What I didn’t love…

  • One or two times the story read like a personal essay, or an explanation of the conclusions Rachel was coming to on her personal journey. I found myself skimming over those sections and would have preferred if the author had trusted me as a reader to “get it,” and simply let the story speak for itself.
  • It’s a personal preference, but the book was a little more sentimental than I typically like—though it stopped short of being maudlin.

Conclusion

I really liked A SYMPHONY OF CICADAS, and found myself connecting to it emotionally. (I cried, okay?!) It is certainly not what I would call a “difficult book”: It was easy to read, easy to understand, and did not push the boundaries of conventional morality. It is a well-written story that will appeal to readers who prefer to keep their fantasies grounded in the “real world,” and would be a great crossover read for those who typically don’t read Fantasy fiction at all. Readers of inspirational stories will find much to like as well, as it explores such themes as family, God and love. While it was a little too sentimental, a little too neatly-resolved for me personally, I would not hesitate to recommend this book.

Find all of Erin’s reviews, including author interviews, at A Writer Reads.

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About the Reviewer

Erin Mumford

Erin studied English Literature in college and–after briefly flirting with the idea of law school–decided to continue to surround herself with literature and became a librarian instead. After earning her MLIS from the University of Alabama, Erin worked as a reference librarian first in Utah and then Las Vegas, which opened her eyes to the human condition outside of her books. She now lives in the Midwest, where she is taking time off from the library to raise her son and seriously pursue her dream of becoming a published author. Erin firmly believes that a good writer starts by being a good reader.

Erin is dedicated to honestly reviewing and promoting the work of new authors. Erin sincerely believes that she stands to gain and learn much by reading and critically evaluating as much as she can. Erin is dedicated to giving each book she reviews a fair shake.