The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood

★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience. —PIERRE TEILHARD DE CHARDIN

Well what had a promising start soon devolved into bitter disappointment. I thought the story would revolve around meditations on death and the afterlife, notions of loss and grief, what it meant to be living and breathing – perhaps in the same vein as Lincoln in the Bardo. But, nope. This was a convoluted tale of losing a sibling as well as of having sexual intercourse with *spoiler alert* a ghost. Charlie St. Cloud sure came off as a prurient and a pervert then. It’s a bad mix of sentimentality, half-baked romance, pseudo-religious references and death.

The author sordidly lacks in storytelling abilities but writes good descriptions. Yes, he must have thoroughly researched on sailing, on paramedics – it shows in the bulk of the novel. But that’s that. One of the cardinal rules of storytelling is to misdirect the reader and never mislead. This novel however achieves the opposite effect, where I was misled into certain assumptions for the sake of thrusting them down the reader’s throat. Would not recommend!

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

On Death

  • Folks passed away more often in the coldest months, and he wondered if it was the frost or a natural response to the excess of the holidays.
  • So this is what it came down to. A long life, and now this? Years alone in a fog. Tess swore she wouldn’t allow herself to end up this way. She would go out in a blaze of glory. She never wanted to fade away. That was the worst thing that could happen.
  • Wherever it is, death isn’t the end. It’s an elevation, really. It’s like catching the moon.
  • Good old Abe had made it to 101 years old. In the morbid calculus of the cemetery workers, that meant the coffin would be lighter and the job therefore easier. Centenarians never weighed much.
  • Too many good people die a little when they lose someone they love. One death begets two or twenty or one hundred. It’s the same all over the world.

On Sailing

  • “Sailing,” he liked to joke, “is the fine art of getting wet and becoming ill, while going nowhere slowly at great expense.”
  • Somehow, mastering the wind was always easier than taming unruly men.

Beautiful Sentences

  • Little boys cast their lines from the dock. Someday they will grow up to hit home runs and kiss girls. Life goes on, infinite, irrepressible.
  • “Whip!” Bony said, using the local slang for “damn” that had been passed down for generations.
  • The susurrus of the sails, luffed by the breeze, and the tickle on the back of her neck told her it would be rough later on the water.
  • The serenity around him was palpable. Now he had this paradise to himself; fourteen hours until the world returned. For him, these were the most precious moments. Time for himself. Time to be. Time to think.
  • As a spirit, Sam could have roamed anywhere he wanted, traveling to Alpha Centauri in the Milky Way, shimmering with a rainbow over the Lakes of Killarney, catching the sun over the Barrier Reef, and riding the moon over Machu Picchu. The possibilities were truly infinite. The known universe with its 40 billion galaxies could have been his playground.
  • Charlie lived in a verdant world surrounded by every imaginable shade of green, but for all the moss and bluegrass, he knew this: Her eyes were perfection. Light as lime on the outer edges, rich as emerald toward the center.
  • Bowdy Cartwright had owned the Lobster Company forever. He was a jowly fellow with at least three chins who had amused generations of kids with his uncanny imitation of a puffer fish.
  • They all gleamed with an aura of light. The old no longer hobbled. The infirm were restored with vigor. At first, their edges would soften and shimmer like gossamer. Then their appearance would change subtly, and they would begin to look the way they had always imagined themselves. Soon, when they were ready to go on to the next level, they would fade away, deliquescing like mist in the sun.
  • Charlie drank in the sylvan setting, memorizing the color of the leaves and the angles of the light. He knew he would never return again to this crepuscular realm, and soon the clearing itself would be gone.

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