What draws a reader back to a story again? Perhaps repeatedly?
Pondering this as I finish the fourth rereading of The Secret Deaths of Arthur Lowe by U.L. Harper.
The Secret Deaths . . . is a deceptively simple storyline. Arthur has the magical ability to animate the inanimate, an ability that includes restoring the dead to life. Yet raised amid frequent neglect and rejection, he strives to understand the impact and consequences exercising this ability has on others. On neighbors. On his wife who committed suicide and who he brought back to life.
Just because he can restore life to those dying around him, does that mean he should? Is holding on to someone at any cost more damaging than letting go?
But as he navigates questions about his ability, a deadly stench spreads through his town. The pressure surges as children, adults, and pets succumb to the mysterious miasma. He must resolve these questions and more to decide whether to give aid with his gift. Can he find even a modicum of peace for himself if he does—or doesn’t—use it for the dying?
Harper’s prose is lean and well-crafted. He balances the shifts between the present-day adult Arthur and the past child/adolescent Arthur with exquisite timing to illuminate scenes both preceding and following whatever is currently happening in the story. Yet none of the foreshadowing made the story predictable.
Although The Secret Deaths of Arthur Lowe is adult speculative fiction, the story bridges more than a single subcategory. It is magical realism and literary eerie as well as dark urban fantasy and quiet horror. It’s an artful examination of nature vs. nurture, of the right to die, of possessiveness vs. unselfishness (and how painful either can be), of the outsider psyche. Of a person who wants to do what’s right yet makes mistakes. Right and wrong are not always clear to him. Like so many of us, he finds his often unguided way by trial and error.
The Secret Deaths of Arthur Lowe has joined the ranks of books I read again and again. Excellent work, U.L.!!!